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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, March 16, 2008

President meets Timothy Bell, Minsk City, US Ambassador departs, Small business, Russia, Ukraine, Polish scandal, Bloggers and Ekaterina Dzehalevich

  • From the Top...
  • #290

    President of Belarus meets with Timothy Bell

    From: BelTA and the office of the president
    "Belarus is a European state, and, historically, our people have done a lot for Europe," said President Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting with Timothy Bell, a member of the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    President of Belarus hopes the relations with Great Britain will be developing in a robust manner. This he said at today’s meeting with Timothy Bell, a member of the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    “We hope you will be an ambassador of good will representing Great Britain with whom our relationship has been developing very actively notwithstanding some squabbling in the political sphere,” said the President. Great Britain is one of the leading countries in terms of the amount of investment it has been making in Belarus.

    “Today the world is developing in such a way that it’s impossible to imagine this or that country without your line of business,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Mr Timothy Bell is President of Chime Communications, an advertising and public relations company. He said that his company works in many countries on reputation management. According to him, the most typical situation is the lack of information about a country, its development. Mr Timothy Bell stressed that “there is nothing magic about his work,” the main goal of his company is to rectify the situation so that information would get out to the wide audience.

    The Head of State thanked Timothy Bell for his visit to Belarus. “You’ll be happy to work in our country with our people, with today’s Belarusian authorities,” said the Head of State to Lord Bell. He also assured the foreign guest that he was ready to provide any information about Belarus.

    Level of Belarus’ economic development is quite high, Lord Bell says

    The level of economic development in Belarus is quite high, Timothy Bell, a member of the House of Lords of the British Parliament, told reporters after his meeting with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.

    In geopolitical terms Belarus is a kind of gateway and its geographical position constitutes a serious factor for many countries in this region. Therefore the experience of economic recovery of Belarus after the USSR collapse is interesting. “You have reached a serious level of economic development, decent wages. This remains a big problem in many European countries,” Timothy Bell said. He also added that unemployment is one of the common phenomena in the west while Belarus has reduced it almost to the minimum.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Construction of Minsk City first facilities should be launched in September, President says

    From: BelTA
    The construction of a new aircraft repair plant outside Minsk and the first facilities of Minsk City should be launched in September 2008. Relative resolution was passed on March 14 after today’s meeting at President’s Office which focused on the issues of relocation of the existing aircraft repair plant and other aviation facilities outside Minsk and construction of a new aircraft repair plant, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    During the meeting, the preliminary results were analyzed and further activities were discussed.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted that all the works from design to construction “should be done promptly”. The relocation of the existing aircraft repair plant and other aviation facilities outside Minsk is a key issue in the implementation of the project Minsk City. “The time framework for the implementation of this project has been set. We must get down to concrete actions at once,” the President highlighted.

    The most important thing here is to retain the highly qualified personnel of the plant, retrain them for their work in a new environment, to set up necessary housing infrastructure, the President said.

    As BelTA has informed earlier, a management company has been set up to handle the Minsk City project.

    President wants immediate start for Minsk City investment project

    At today’s meeting focused on the subject of relocation of the existing aircraft repair plant and other aviation facilities outside Minsk and construction of a new aircraft repair plant, President Alexander Lukashenko said he wanted the “Minsk City Investment Project” be launched as soon as possible.

    “The time framework for the implementation of this project has been set. We have no time to waste, we must get down to concrete actions at once. As far as I have been informed, not everything goes smoothly in this respect,” said the President.

    The relocation of the aircraft repair plant out the city and the construction of the new plant remains the number-one issue at the moment, he said. This should be done within a short period. “If you are still only thinking over how to build and solve the main issue of relocating the aircraft repair plant outside the city, it’s very bad,” he added.

    It was planned not just to relocate the facilities concerned, but in fact to build an entirely new company. “We don’t need an aircraft repair plant as it looks now. This is last century,” he said. “We need to step up onto a more advanced level and repair and provide servicing, and in the future maybe even produce parts for promising planes, both Russian and foreign ones,” he added. The most important thing here is to retain the highly qualified personnel of the plant, retrain them and prepare for their work in a new environment, the President said.

    Mikhail Pavlov: Minsk City planning will be completed in April

    Detailed planning of the multifunctional center Minsk City will be finished in April. After that the participants of the project will start designing the facilities, Mikhail Pavlov, the Chairman of the Minsk City Council informed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on March 14.

    According to him, all organizational issues are settled in due time. The construction of the Minsk City facilities will start in 2008.

    If the financing meets the schedule, we will be able to speed up the work on realizing our plans,” the Mayor of Minsk considers.

    Igor Makarov, the Chairman of the ITERA Board of Directors, praised the cooperation level with Belarus and took note of high professionalism of Belarusian partners.

    In April, ITERA Company is going to present the final list of the institutions ready to take part in the project. Russian and big European banks are among those who show interest in the project.

    Vadim Melnik, the director of the aviation department of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, said that the rights and interests of the personnel of the aviation repair plant would be observed. Nearly 800 specialists have expressed desire to take jobs at a new company. Most of them are young people aged between 35-37.

  • Politics...

    US Ambassador departs Belarus following demand of Belarusian side

    From: BelTA
    US Ambassador to the Republic of Belarus Karen Stewart is departing Belarus following the demand of the Belarusian side.

    “Today we have received an official notification from the US embassy in Minsk that Ms Karen Stewart is departing for Washington for consultations,” spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov told BelTA.

    “Before the departure, the US ambassador was summoned once again to the Foreign Ministry of Belarus on March 11. She was repeatedly proposed to follow the strong recommendation of the Government of Belarus,” the Foreign Ministry official said.

    Belarus notifies UN about US sanctions against Belneftekhim

    The Republic of Belarus has sent an official note to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the additional economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Belneftekhim, Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry, BelTA learnt from Belarus’ Permanent Representative Office at the UN.

    Belarus’ Permanent Representative Office at the UN sent a letter to the head of the UN secretariat with a request to publish the relevant statement by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry of March 7, 2008 as an official document of the UN General Assembly with relation to the agenda item of the 62nd session “Elimination of unilateral coercive economic measures as a means of political and economic compulsion”.

  • Economics...

    Belarusian small business bank to open in April

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian small business bank will open in Minsk in April this year, Michael Davey, the EBRD Director for the Caucasus, Belarus and Moldova, said at an official meeting with chairman of the Mogilev oblast executive committee Boris Batura. Michael Davey is in the Mogilev oblast for an one-day visit.

    “The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is the main sponsor and driving force behind the new financial institution which will focus on the support and financing of small business,” he said. “We expect that in Q3 this year an office of the new bank will be launched in Mogilev,” he added.

    According to Michael Davey, the new bank will promote the development of small business in Belarus and expand the presence and opportunities of the EBRD in the financial market of the country. Recently the EBRD has significantly increased the volume of financing which is carried out through five banks of the country. Last year alone, the Bank invested around $120 million in the economy of Belarus which is more than in the pervious four years altogether. “This shows that the economy of Belarus has been growing stronger,” Michael Davey said.

    He also said that the main aim of his visit to Mogilev is to initiate new contacts with businessmen who need financial assistance in implementing business-projects. For the cooperation to be more efficient, it is necessary to gain the support of the local authorities who know well the problems of the region.

    In turn, Boris Batura said the oblast would like to intensify cooperation with the EBRD in implementing the programmes to develop small towns and support of small business. For example, he suggested speeding up the process of setting up the office of the bank in Mogilev and promised assistance in choosing the premises. The governor also suggested holding a workshop for businessmen on the terms of cooperation with the EBRD and considering an opportunity to finance several investment projects in small and medium-sized business development which are most important for the Mogilev region.

    Michael Davey also met with the Mogilev town authorities, administration of the techno-park “Mogilev” and the free economic zone “Mogilev”.

  • Union State...

    Belarus, Russia’s AFK Sistema sign general cooperation agreement

    From: BelTA
    The Government of Belarus and Russia’s AFK Sistema signed general cooperation agreement on March 13. The document was signed by Vladimir Semashko, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus, and Alexander Goncharuk, President of Sistema.

    The main goal of the agreement is to attract investments to the Republic of Belarus through the implementation of economically viable and socially significant investment projects in a number of industries, Vladimir Semashko told reporters. “The main idea is that AFK Sistema will bring its technology and investment to promote mutually beneficial business relations and implement social projects in Belarus,” he said.

    Vladimir Semashko reminded the reporters that the President of Belarus met with the chief executives of AFK Sistema on October 29, 2007. The two sides were tasked to work out in detail possible areas of mutually beneficial cooperation,” Vladimir Semashko said. For the time being we have determined these cooperation areas, he added.

    The agreement identifies eight most important areas of joint work. “We worked hard for four and a half months to sign the document today. We met many times to discuss every point of the document,” Vladimir Semashko said.

    According to him, the next stage of cooperation will be signing individual agreements between governmental bodies of Belarus and Sistema and its subsidiaries. “We have agreed not to protract this process. Within a month we need to prepare contracts in all eight areas of cooperation,” Vladimir Semashko said.

    A reminder, a steering committee has been set up to execute joint projects, and consists of 12 representatives of the Government of the Republic of Belarus and ten representatives of Sistema and its subsidiaries.

    Belarus tourist industry to be presented at exhibition Inturmarket in Moscow

    Tourist industry of Belarus will be presented at the exhibition Inturmarket in Moscow. The tourist forum will be held in the Russian capital on March 15-18, BelTA learnt from Viktor Yankovenko, the director of the tourism department of the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of Belarus.

    According to him, Belarus takes part in the exhibition annually. Attending the forum will be the Belarus National Tourism Agency, the committees for physical culture and sports of the Vitebsk and Gomel oblast executive committees, Thentrokurort Centre of the Presidential Property Management Directorate, tourist-information centre Minsk, Victoria Hotel, companies Top Tour, Tourlux, Belinturist and others. They will showcase national reserves of Belarus, resorts and the best tourist programmes. Belarusian folk groups will take part in the Moscow forum as well.

    Taking part in Inturmarket will be 52 countries worldwide. All the CIS member states and Russian regions will attend the forum.

    The Belarusian delegation will be led by Minister of Sport and Tourism Alexander Grigorov who will take part in the session of the CIS Tourism Council which is scheduled on March 17.

    The exhibition Inturmarket is held under the auspices of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, Russia’s Presidential Property Management Directorate, the Federal Service for Transport Control, the Russian Railways, the Russian Union of Tourist Industry, the Russian Hotel Association. Participants of the forum will have an opportunity to establish new business contacts with representatives of tourist market of various countries, share experience and identify the price policy for the forthcoming spring-summer season.

  • From the international press...


    From: Jamestown
    U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart
    A diplomatic dispute between Belarus and the United States reached a new low on March 12, when U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart was recalled to Washington for talks. Earlier State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey had declared that the ambassador would remain in Minsk despite the Belarusian government's strong recommendation that she leave, and following the recall of its ambassador in Washington, Mikhail Khvastou.

    The dispute centers on a number of issues: first, sanctions imposed on the consortium Belnaftakhim and U.S. insistence that Belarus must release all political prisoners – specifically Alyaksandr Kazulin – before relations can be normalized. Second, according to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a related issue is the launching of a Belarus-Venezuela venture that will allow both countries to obtain oil from the Guara Este field in the South American country. Lastly, the Belarusian side appears also to be trying to create a rift between the United States and its close allies in the European Union, according to a Russian source. A brief chronology of these events is in order.

    On November 13, 2007, the United States announced that it was imposing sanctions on Belnaftakhim, one of Belarus's largest petrochemical companies. Two days later, Ambassador Stewart was requested to visit the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, where she received a demand that the United States must unfreeze immediately all of the company's U.S. assets. On December 13, Ambassador Stewart warned that further sanctions could be imposed if the internal situation in Belarus did not improve. The statement evidently infuriated Lukashenka, who used a December 30 speech during a visit to an SOS Children's Sanatorium in Barauliany to declare that the Belarusian side would respond strongly to any further steps by requesting that the U.S. ambassador leave the country. Ten days earlier, Belnaftakhim had announced that the export of its oil products, chemical, and techno-chemical goods would be switched from the U.S. dollar to the Euro.

    Following the release of several political prisoners by Belarus earlier this year, relations with both the EU and the United States improved, but the Belarusian side's refusal to release the last prisoner so designated – Kazulin, who had been allowed to attend his wife's funeral on February 26 – led to the new impasse (see EDM, February 28). Belarusian Minister of Internal Affairs Uladzimir Navumau stated at a press conference on March 3 that there was no basis for Kazulin's release because an amnesty was dependent on a prisoner's good behavior, and the former rector of the State University had four "punishments" already, the most recent of which had been incurred in December 2007.

    As a result of such intransigence, the United States expanded its sanctions to include all Belarusian petrochemical companies in which the government's share was 50% or more. In addition to the sanctions, both Washington and the EU imposed a visa ban on prominent Belarusian officials in April 2006, including the president and his chief advisers, which was widened last year. Belarus responded to the heightened sanctions by recalling Ambassador Khvastou on March 7. Initially, the United States ignored the request that Ambassador Stewart should leave Belarus. Evidently the Foreign Ministry requested a second meeting on March 11, after which the ambassador left for Vilnius. The United States has affirmed, however, that it expects her to return once consultations are over.

    Belarus insists that the United States is interfering in its internal affairs and violating a Memorandum signed between the two countries in 1994 when Belarus relinquished its nuclear weapons (an agreement in place before Lukashenka was elected president). A Russian analysis maintains that the Belarusians are trying to cause a wedge (klin) between Europe and the United States, citing the president's statement that "Belarus is a critical transport artery for the European Union…20-25% of natural gas to the EU travels through Belarus, as well as over 100 million tons of oil, or 40% of the oil that Russia supplies to the EU," and that the two sides are close partners. Belarus has recently appealed to the United Kingdom specifically to become a close trading partner.

    Belarus also maintains that the Americans are incensed by its close friendship with Venezuela, which resulted in the launch of a joint oil company last December. About 7 million tons of oil are anticipated to be produced annually; Venezuela will receive 60% and Belarus 40% according to the terms of the agreement.

    However, the main issue is Belarus's refusal to release Kazulin. The authorities are angry at what they perceive as the outspokenness of Ambassador Stewart on this issue. But, as former deputy foreign minister Andrey Sannikau has noted, logically the next move would be to declare the ambassador persona non grata and cease diplomatic relations, and yet this has not happened. Sannikau believes that the Belarusians are fearful of further sanctions that would be taken by the U.S. side.

    For all their bluster, the Belarusian authorities are treading carefully. They do not want to release Kazulin, but they wish to take a firm stance against the United States without alienating the EU. The current course of action seems misguided. Ambassador Stewart intends to return shortly, but it is very unlikely that the Belarusian authorities will prevent her from doing so.

    US ambassador to Belarus meets with EU officials in Brussels

    From: Naveny
    The US ambassador to Belarus, Karen Stewart, and David Kramer, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, held consultations with European Union (EU) officials in Brussels on March 14, a representative of the US mission to the EU based in the Belgian capital told BelaPAN.

    The diplomat confirmed that the release of all political prisoners by the Belarusian authorities would become the beginning of a constructive dialogue between Minsk and the West.

    Ms. Stewart and Mr. Kramer met with representatives of the European Commission and the EU Council.

    The US ambassador’s visit to Brussels was a stopover on her way to Washington. She was recalled from Minsk for consultations earlier this week.

    "The departure of the US ambassador took place after K. Stewart was once again invited to a meeting at the Belarusian foreign ministry on March 11 where she was for the second time offered to follow the respective pressing recommendations of our country’s government," Andrey Papow, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, told reporters on March 12.

    US Ambassador Karen Stewart announced that she would travel to Washington for “short-term consultations” at a meeting with several opposition figures in Minsk on Wednesday.

    Minsk recalled its ambassador to the United States, Mikhail Khvastow, “for consultations” over sanctions against Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate, the Belarusian State Petrochemical Concern (Belnaftakhim), last week.

    The Belarusian foreign ministry also recommended that the US ambassador leave Minsk, but Washington originally refused to recall Ms. Stewart.

    Mr. Khvastow was recalled from Washington one day 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.

    Belarus airline wins $1 mln damages for aircraft loss in Somalia

    From: Ria Novosti
    Galaxy AIR FCZ, a UAE air freight company, has been ordered to pay Belarusian airline Transaviaexport over $1 million for damage caused to a cargo plane in war-torn Somalia in March 2007.

    An Il-76 freighter, which was under lease from Belarus, came under rocket attack as it was preparing to land at Mogadishu airport in the Somali capital. The missile struck the aircraft at an altitude of 150 meters (450 feet), but the four-engine plane managed to land despite sustaining severe damage to the fuselage.

    The crew and nine people on board were uninjured in the attack.

    A Minsk court found that Galaxy Air FCZ violated the leasing contract with Belarus by sending the plane into a combat zone without warning Minsk and was, therefore, liable for damage to the freighter.

    The incident took place three weeks before another Belarus-owned Il-76 was shot down during take off in Somalia, killing all 11 people on board, including seven crew members.

    Somalia has been plagued by violence since former President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. The civil war-torn East African state, which has no recognized central government, has also struggled to cope with famine and disease relying on UN aid.

    Leader of Homel Entrepreneurs Is Expelled from Market

    From: Viasna
    On 13 March a court marshal told Mikhail Vasilyeu, chairman of the council of entrepreneurs of the Prudkouski market, to vacate his place at the market by 24 March. Otherwise the entrepreneur will be expelled from the market with the use of force.

    As the BelaPAN was informed by Vasilyeu, the ruling for annulment of the rent agreement was taken by Homel oblast economic court on 12 January 2008. A similar ruling was issued concerning the member of the entrepreneurs’ council Nadzeya Aivazava. Later the Supreme Court abolished the latter ruling, and the entrepreneurs continued working at the market.

    The conflict of the entrepreneurs’ council with the administration dates back to March 2007, when the rent tariffs were increased. The council did not agree with the boost of the rent and declared it illegal. The entrepreneurs have spent about a year already, trying to prove their rightness in the courts of different levels.

    On 11 March the council of entrepreneurs addressed the president’s administration concerning the eviction of the chairman M.Vasilyeu. In the address it is stated that the annulment of the rent contract to Vasilyeu is a gross violation of president’s decree #148, where it is stated that contracts to chairpersons of entrepreneurs’ councils can be annulled in the case these persons are deprived of the business licenses or systematically don’t pay the rent.

    M.Vasilyeu believes that the annulment of the rent agreement demonstrates the wish of the market administration to do away with the entrepreneurs’ council which openly struggles for the rights of those who work at the market. According to Vasilyeu, at present about 50 entrepreneurs pay the rent according to the old tariff, thusly expressing their disagreement to increase of the rent for their working places.

    Belarus Community Eagerly Prepares for Passover

    From: FJC
    Even though the holiday of Purim is over a month away, the Association of Jewish Communities of Belarus has already begun making preparations for Passover. Among the necessary tasks ahead of the organization, the acquisition and distribution of Matzah is one of the most important.

    This year, it is anticipated that 6 Ѕ tons of Matza will be received. With assistance from the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS and the Ohr Avner Foundation, the Matzah Campaign has been a huge success for some years now, reaching both large and small communities – not only in Belarus, but in over a dozen former Soviet republics.

    Sholom Malinkin, who serves as the Chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities of Belarus, spoke to the press about this major initiative. "This year, we are again receiving a shipment of Matzah from our colleagues in Moscow. But this time, there will be significantly more sent so that there is enough to go around in Belarus – for all Jewish communities in our country, whether or not they are affiliated with our organization".

    At the present time, campaign organizers are engaged in preparing all the necessary documentation required to ship the Matzah to Minsk in advance of the Passover holiday. From there, it will be dispersed to other regional centers and smaller communities.

  • Cultural scene...

    Swedish photographer Edvard Koinberg vows to snap Belarus’ plants

    From: BelTA
    An exhibition “Herbarium Amoris” by Edvard Koinberg opened in the National History and Culture Museum of Belarus on March 13. It is a tribute to famous scientist Carl Linnaeus. The exposition that is to last a month has been organized by the Minsk Section Office of the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow together with the Swedish Institute.

    Stefan Eriksson, the chief of the office, thanked the National History and Culture Museum of Belarus for support in the organization of the exhibition. He underlined that the Swedish diplomatic representative office tends to arrange interesting events in the Belarusian capital. “I think this time we have brought an extraordinary exhibition,” the diplomat said.

    Mr. Edvard Koinberg noted that the works “Herbarium Amoris” are the expression of his personal appreciation of Carl Linnaeus and his ideas. Most of the snapshot plants grow in Edvard Koinberg’s garden. “Next time I visit Minsk, I will take pictures of Belarusian plants,” the Swedish photographer promised.

    Edvard Koinberg has worked as a photographer and graphic designer since 1989. The exhibition “Herbarium Amoris” was first displayed in Stockholm in 2003. The photographer works in a style that takes people to Carl Linnaeus times. The Dutch painting of 17th-18th centuries inspires Koinberg’s creation.

    “Herbarium Amoris” has been showcased in 2007-2008 worldwide including China, Australia, the USA, South Africa and Europe.

    Belarusian-Russian Youth Symphonic Orchestra to be set up in Moscow in late March

    The Belarusian-Russian Youth Symphonic Orchestra will be set up in Moscow in late March. This is a result of the master-classes for students of universities of arts of both the states.

    The master-classes “Union State for young talents of 21st century” will be held in the Russian capital on the base of the Central Music School of the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory since March 26.

    A concert in the Cosmonauts’ House of Star Town will become the first exam of the Belarusian-Russian Youth Symphonic Orchestra. The concert will be given on March 30. Next day, the orchestra will perform in the concert hall of the Moscow Central Music School. On April 2, the orchestra will take part in the celebrations timed to the Unity Day of the Peoples of Belarus and Russia.

    The master-classes will be funded at the expense of the Union budget. They are organized by the Belarusian Culture Ministry and Russia’s Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

  • Around the region...

    Children in Russia are frightened by me - Tymoshenko

    From: Ynian
    Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko is not to prevent the entrance of Russia in the World Trade Organization after the Ukrainian side signed the protocol on joining to the WTO.

    “Till I head the government, Ukraine will not create obstacles for Russia on entrance to the WTO, quite the opposite, we will promote. I know that even children in Russia are frightened by me. Propaganda has been working for this image for a long time. This is the consequence of the interior political struggle in Ukraine. Without any hesitation I will change this mistaken perception”, said Yu. Tymoshenko in the interview to Vedomosti newspaper on the eve of the visit to Moscow.

    The Ukrainian Prime Minister confirmed one more time her position concerning the mediators by gas supplies from Russia.

    “Dishonest businessmen and politicians have accused me for many years of all mortal sins. But I am just against any mediators. At the beginning of 1990es Russia and Ukraine were involved into the crisis of non-payments, the industry stagnated and uniting links were needed in order to restore the flows of commodities. These occurrences do not take place now that is why the mediators are not needed”, Yu. Tymoshenko thinks.

    The representative of the press service of the Russian government disclosed to journalists that Prime Minister of the RF Victor Zubkov will discuss the conditions and the perspectives of the bilateral trade – economic cooperation with the Prime Minister of Ukraine in Moscow.

    As it was reported earlier, the visit of Tymoshenko to Moscow is scheduled for February 21.

    Ukraine seeks long-term contracts with Gazprom for 3-5 years

    In a related story, Ukraine seeks to sign with Gazprom long-term contracts for 3-5 years.

    According to an UNIAN correspondent, Yulia Tymoshenko claimed this to a press conference in the Cabinet of Ministers today.

    “We want to have strategic relations with Gazprom for 3-5 years. We keep on the long-term process, to conclude long-term contracts”, she said.

    The Prime Minister added that Ukraine and Russia “will find mutual understanding and solve all issues, and the relations will be built harmoniously”.

    The American landing force will stay out of sight

    From: Ria Novosti
    The recent beefing up of the US Navy in the Mediterranean has caused concern in Russia and some Mediterranean countries. Experts believe the appearance of US warships off the coast of Syria and Lebanon presages a US military operation in the region.

    The recent deployment of the US Navy guided missile destroyer DDG 67 Cole off the Lebanese coast, reportedly sent "to support the ruling coalition" in Lebanon, caused an uproar among the opposition. Lebanese MP Hasan Fadlallah, representing the radical Islamic group Hezbollah, accused the United States of aggression against Lebanon.

    How justified are these fears?

    In early March the destroyer USS Cole was replaced by a similar, but upgraded new destroyer DDG 71 Ross and the cruiser USS Philippine Sea. All these ships are fitted out with the AEGIS system and various missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles and Standard SM-2 anti-aircraft missiles. Unlike the four-stage SM-3s used in the U.S. missile defense system, Standard SM-2 has less capacity to intercept ballistic missiles, but it can successfully intercept aerodynamic targets such as planes, cruise missiles and drones within a range of over 300 kilometers.

    But for all their formidable power, the destroyer and the missile cruiser pose a threat not by themselves, but as part of a group. USS Ross and USS Philippine Sea are part of the US Navy's Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) Nassau (NASSG) headed by the landing helicopter carrier bearing that name, which was deployed on a prolonged patrol mission in the areas of operation of the 5th and 6th Fleets of the US Navy. The areas are in the Indian and Atlantic oceans respectively and intersect in the Middle East and the seas washing the region where the strike group will be on patrol duty.

    In addition to LHA 4 Nassau, USS Ross and USS Philippine Sea, the group includes the land attack ship LPD 13 Nashville, the dock-landing ship LSD 48 Ashland, the destroyer DDG 84 Bulkeley and the multi-purpose submarine SSN 753 Albany. On board the landing ships are the marines of the 22nd Expeditionary Unit trained for special operations. The unit can be used autonomously in limited-scale operations or as an advance party in a major military conflict. Marines reach the coast by air-cushion speedboats, helicopters and convertoplanes. The ESG's firepower can be greatly augmented by air support from the aircraft carriers of the 5th and 6th Fleets and US Air Force bases in the region.

    During the mission the ESG personnel - both the crews and the marines - are trained for action in the Middle East theater and are even taught basic Arabic.

    The ESG's patrol mission will last several months. It is to leave the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal and head for the Gulf in early April. All this time it will be on full combat alert.

    Expeditionary strike groups, along with other instruments, above all powerful transport aviation and aircraft carrier strike units, enable the U.S. Defense Department to quickly build up forces in key regions and if necessary start warfare using all the armed services at short notice, leaving the potential enemy no time for an adequate response, especially if it happens to be a third world country with limited means of reconnaissance over the ocean.

    Bearing all this in mind, the concern of the Middle Eastern countries and Russia over the deployment of ESG ships off the Lebanese and Syrian coast is well grounded: a significant unengaged military force has appeared in the region, which can launch combat operations at the drop of a hat. Against this background American reassurances that the destroyer and the cruiser will be out of sight of the shore don't count for much. The landing assets on the ESG's ships enable marines to be landed within tens of minutes without any of the ships approaching the shore close enough to be seen with the naked eye.

    Russia must use nuclear deterrent to protect allies - analyst

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russia must reserve the right to use nuclear weapons to protect Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) members in case of an imminent threat, a Russian political analyst said on Wednesday.

    The CSTO is a post-Soviet security group comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    "It is necessary to extend part of Russia's nuclear doctrine, which covers the use of tactical nuclear weapons, to all members of the CSTO treaty as a deterrence guarantee," said Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Moscow-based Academy of Geopolitical Sciences.

    He said the existing treaty was too vague about the assistance, including military, which each CSTO country must provide to an ally in case of a clear and imminent threat of military aggression.

    "Article 4 of the treaty must be revised and contain a concrete definition of such assistance, clearly described in military-strategic terms," Ivashov said during a round-table meeting in Moscow.

    The Treaty on Collective Security was signed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 15 May 1992. The CSTO was established on 18 September 2003 in accordance with a decision of the heads of member states on transforming the treaty into an international regional organization.

    Article 4 of the current treaty stipulates that: "If an act of aggression is committed against any of the member states, all other member states will render it necessary assistance, including military, and provide support with the means at their disposal by exercising the right to collective defense in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter".

    The Russian leadership has already reaffirmed its commitment to building and maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent, while strongly criticizing the proposed deployment of the U.S. missile shield in Central Europe, and further eastward expansion of NATO.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish E-voting is for beer-swigging, porn-loving youths

    From: My Broadband
    Poland should not opt for e-voting, because the Internet is a preserve of beer-swigging youths with a penchant for pornography, the country's defeated conservative prime minister said on Wednesday.

    "I am not enthusiastic about the idea of a youngster sitting at his computer, watching videos and porn, slugging on a beer bottle and voting whenever he feels like it," Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in an interview published, ironically, on the Web site of his Law and Justice party.

    Poland has regularly faced low election turnout rates since the advent of democracy when the communist bloc collapsed in 1989.

    The national ombudsman has suggested that Warsaw should follow the lead of regional neighbours such as Estonia and use voting on line to encourage more people to take part.

    But Kaczynski, who was swept from office by the liberal Civic Platform in a snap election last October and is now leader of the opposition, suggested that Internet balloting could be a ruse to fiddle future results.

    Internet-users are "the easiest group to manipulate, and to suggest who they should vote for," he said.

    Instead of plunging headlong towards new-fangled ideas, Kaczynski added, today's politicians should take a tip from their predecessors and opt for tried-and-tested methods such as marketplace soapbox speeches.

    Young and urban voters, considered typical Internet users in many countries, swung solidly behind the Civic Platform in last year's election, when the Web was a major campaign tool for the liberals.

    Analysts said a weak Internet presence contributed to Law and Justice's defeat after two years in office, with the party more popular among older voters than younger ones.

    Law and Justice has since been looking to spruce up its image, and, despite his comments, Kaczynski has not been entirely Internet-shy.

    In December, he launched a videoblog, saying it was "a good way to meet people" and that he planned to use it around three times a month to express his views.

    Kaczynski, 58, is the identical twin of Poland's incumbent President Lech Kaczynski, and is known for his often truculent style and occasionally unusual comments.

    He raised eyebrows last year when he said he did not have a bank account, explaining that he feared that anyone trying to manufacture a scandal might transfer funds into it and then try to discredit him.

    Instead, he said, he chose to pay his salary over to his mother.

    Polish killers, drug smugglers and rapists on the run in Britain are being sent home on 'Con Air' flights

    From: Daily Mail
    Shackled and strapped on to metal benches on a military transport plane, Polish murderers, rapists and drug smugglers arrested in Britain are being flown home to prison on secret flights.

    The Eastern European criminals and fugitives, captured on the run, are loaded on to specially hired military aircraft to face court and prison intheir homeland.

    In scenes reminiscent of the Hollywood movie Con Air starring Nicolas Cage – about a group of hardened convicts being flown across America – the Polish criminals are forced to endure an uncomfortable, windowless ride home in the back of a Russian-built Antonov troop-carrier.

    After it was recently revealed that the Home Office was offering Ј3,000 incentives to foreign prisoners willing to return home to relieve overcrowding in Britain's jails, this is justice Polish-style.

    The Polish authorities used to escort their prisoners home on regular charter flights from London.

    But violent incidents which endangered some civilian flights – as well as the escalating cost – led to the chartering of military planes to fly them back to Warsaw.

    So many Poles wanted for crimes - including murder and rape - are being picked up in Britain that "Con Air" flights from Warsaw are now regularly touching down in London.

    The camouflaged plane is stripped of everything other than a metal bench and the prisoners are handcuffed and guarded by armed policemen.

    When the aircraft land, the prisoners are led off the rear loading ramp in shackles, carrying their possessions in plastic bags, and herded off past a row of uniformed officers into prison buses that take them to the cells.

    The Polish ministry of internal affairs says the number of criminals extradited from the UK to Poland has recently grown 14-fold – with an average of three wanted Poles arrested in Britain each week.

    Some are absconded offenders, while many others are wanted for trial.

    Since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, scores of people facing court hearings are known to have fled to the UK.

    It has become a popular choice for wanted individuals who find it easy to disappear among Britain's expanding Polish community, most of whom are hard-working and law-abiding.

    Before the flights started this year, each fugitive had to be escorted back home by two police officers.

    In 2007, it cost about Ј300,000 to take 135 criminals back to Poland on 73 different commercial flights.

    Now, by using leased, no-frills military planes from the Polish air force, the Polish police have slashed the cost of the operation.

    Earlier this month, a secret flight from London to Warsaw took off carrying ten Poles wanted for offences as diverse as bank theft, drug smuggling and arms trading.

    The cost was Ј8,000, compared with the Ј38,000 Polish authorities would have paid for regular flights.

    Already this year, 36 suspected criminals have been sent back to Poland in this way.

    Sources in Warsaw said: "It's cheap and it's safer.

    "We've had a few accidents, when criminals flying back to Poland tried to hijack the plane, despite the efforts of their escorts, and forced the crew to divert.

    "The slightest possibility of that is ruled out now."

    The fugitives are arrested here under European warrants for a range of crimes committed in Poland, from murder and rape to petty theft.

    Most are held after committing crimes in the UK or after being stopped for traffic offences.

    A spokesman at the Polish police headquarters in Warsaw said: "Most of them have committed crimes in Britain. These include practically every crime in the book."

    In the past month, one of the flights has been used to deport a man who fled from Poland to England after killing two people in a road accident.

    Other Poles who have recently been flown home were wanted for a security van robbery, assault and illegal possession of weapons.

    A spokesman for the Polish interior ministry said: "There is no other way. So many are being caught each week for petty – and some serious – crimes in the UK.

    "They don't like the military flights because they aren't exactly comfortable. But they do the job."

    This is one lesson they won't forget

    From: INT
    A pair of bank robbers burst into tears and collapsed choking in Poland after they tried to use pepper spray on a cashier in front of an air conditioning unit.

    The wind blew the spray back over the pair, who staggered from the bank in the south-western city of Wroclaw empty handed.

    "They told the cashier to open the till and then tried to put her out of action to grab the cash - but the pepper sprayed back in their faces because of the blast of warm air from the heater," said a local police spokesperson.

    "They only managed to escape because they had a pal outside in a getaway car."

    Security cameras showed the crooks were wearing wooly black balaclavas, although Polish media speculated that if they strike again - they might well have switched to gas masks.

    Police are still looking for the crooks.

    Notorious Polish sex predator accused of raping 11-year-old

    From: The News
    An 11-year old girl from Wagrowiec, west-central Poland, was most probably raped by a 62-year old acquaintance of her grandmother, say police.

    The girl's grandmother met the men through an ad in the dating section of a local newspaper. They have been exchanging letters since October. The man frequently assured the elderly lady of his profound religiosity.

    He first visited the girl's grandmother in March and was entirely trusted by all the family members from the minute he arrived.

    Last Friday the man offered to take the girl on a trip around Wagrowiec but instead took her to Zabrze, southern Poland, his hometown, where he most likely raped her in a hotel room.

    After a couple of hours, alarmed by their daughter's prolonging absence, the parents notified the police. It turned out that the man already had a criminal record. He served time for sex-related crimes and lawless imprisonment. He was only released from prison 18 February.

    The police found the man in a hotel in Zabrze, around 24 hours after he left Wagrowiec. The man was arrested, but pleaded not guilty. His plea is, however, contradicted by the results of a medical examination of the girl and her testimony.

  • From the blogs...

    Russia Charges Blogger for Inciting Police Hatred

    From: Blog Wired
    Russian blogger Savva Terentyev is being charged for inciting hatred toward the authorities for a post that, among other things, labeled the police "uneducated representatives of the animal world."

    Terentyev said Wednesday that the charges were a result of a February 2007 posting in which he chastised local authorities for raiding an opposition newspaper.

    Terentyev's comments, first published by The Associated Press, come amid a government crackdown on Russian internet and media outlets.

    "They're trash - and those that become cops are simply trash, dumb, uneducated representatives of the animal world," Terentyev wrote. "It would be good if in the center of every town in Russia ... an oven was built, like at Auschwitz, in which ceremonially, every day, and better yet, twice a day ... the infidel cops were burnt. This would be the first step toward cleaning society of these cop-hoodlum scum."

    If Terentyev doesn't like restrictions to his voice in Russia, he should move to the United States.

    That's the country where President Bush, as commander in chief, has drift-netted American's electronic communications in a bid to protect their freedoms, including the right of free speech. It's also the country where web sites critical of the police are taken down for murky reasons.

    Are you a sex addict alcoholic?

    From: The Beatroot
    Well, if you are reading this then you are, according to former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Bless.

    Plans by the government to introduce voting via the internet have alarmed Jaroslaw. He thinks that anyone who hangs around on the web is a deviant.

    On his Law and Justice party web site Kaczynski says: “I am not an enthusiast of the idea that a young person can sit in front of a computer, watching movies and pornography, drinking beer, and then vote when he feels like it. The act of voting should be serious, conscious and demanding some activity.”

    Are you a drunken sex maniac?

    But I agree. Politics should be about engagement. But someone should get Jaroslaw a communications director and stop him making statements so dumb. He reflects the small town view here among the many not connected, that the internet is the devil incarnate.

    They have heard stories, but have never used the web. Internet reach is limited in Poland. And those folk are Kaczynski's political base. They will ignore the positive benefits for many workers – like disabled people who can now work from home, and demonstrated by callers to the TVN 24 news station today, outraged at being called drunken alcoholics by Kaczynski.

    The present Donald Tusk government has been scratching its head (and considering this government is not the most active in the history of governments, probably picking and flicking its collective nose) about how to increase turnout at election time in Poland. If over fifty three percent turn out for election time (as they did in the last election in October last year) then that is seen as a ‘success’. Poles, many of them, are not amazed by democracy.

    And the reasons for low turnout - which is connected with the collapse of meaningful politics - will not be tackled simply by a click on a mouse.

    Use of Punitive Psychiatry Continues: Aliaksandr Kruty Detained and Placed in Psychiatric Hospital

    From: Viasna
    On 3 March Aliaksandr Kruty came to a polyclinic to get registered there. He was met by the policemen, who forcedly took him to the Navinki psychiatric hospital in Minsk.
    As HRC Viasna learned, Aliaksandr Kruty did not give his agreement to psychiatric treatment. As it is stated in the law On psychiatric treatmentё placement to a psychiatric hospital is possible only on citizen’s personal agreement or in the case when his/her actions present a threat to his/her own health or health of other citizens. In this case the actions of Niasvizh police are unlawful and Kruty’s relatives are going to appeal against them to court.

    Bear in mind that recently the College Board on criminal cases of Minsk oblast court reversed the ruling of Niasvizh district court by which Kruty was found guilty of public insult of president of Belarus. It is quite interesting that according to the ruling of Niasvizh court Kruty was freed from criminal punishment, as his actions did not present considerable social threat, but instead was to have been directed for psychiatric treatment right from the pre-trial prison. He was released from prison only after the ruling of Minsk oblast court. Nevertheless, then he was caught and taken to the psychiatric hospital. This case, along with the cases of the civil activists Valery Misnikau (Vitsebsk) and Krystsina Shatsikava (Mahiliou) witnesses the continuing use of punitive psychiatry in Belarus.

    Ретроспектива изустного кино

    From: Minsk Blog
    Музей истории белорусского кино (ул. Свердлова, 4) представляет:
    Фестиваль Изустного кино

    15 марта, 15.00 – Полнометражные фильмы:
    «Монжуа». Режиссерский дуэт: Евгений Юнов, Филипп Чмырь.
    «Трышчан і Іжота». 38-я сэрыя. (Кіно нямое, чорна-белае.)
    Режиссер: Николай Романовский.

    Короткометражные фильмы:
    «Весна, Берлин, велосипед».
    Режиссер и исполнитель главной роли: Петр Калачин.
    Фильм с утраченным названием.
    Режиссер: Боб Лубоцкий.

    22 марта, 15.00 – Полнометражные фильмы:
    «Герой». Режиссер: Игорь Корзун.
    «Медведь и Охо». Режиссер: Дмитрий Строцев.

    Информация об истории жанра.

    «Кино как исключительный феномен современного искусства необратимо повлияло на образное мышление человека, в чем-то исказив саму нашу способность сообщать и воспринимать образы, в чем-то обогатив наше воображение, но, несомненно, преобразив. И если сегодня мы захотим что-либо рассказать друзьям, то, сами того не желая, воспользуемся теми или иными кино-приемами. То есть, мощнейшее влияние кино испытывают на себе не только изобразительное искусство, театр и литература, но и простое непосредственное обращение человека к человеку».

    В конце 80-х в кругу участников минской арт-группы «Белорусский Климат» получили хождение несколько аутентичных кинофильмом, которые их авторы, Филипп Чмырь и Евгений Юнов, – устно – «показывали» друзьям и коллегам в приватной обстановке. Поэт Дмитрий Строцев засвидетельствовал рождение нового жанра ИЗУСТНОГО КИНО и предложил провести мини-фестиваль устных фильмов. Первый фестиваль изустного кино прошел 24 октября 1988 г. в минском подъезде по адресу: ул. Красноармейская, д.8. Следующий фестиваль «Белорусский Климат» провел в пространстве групповой выставки «Конец лета в Месопотамии» в минском ДК Профсоюзов – весной 1989. В 1991 г. – изустные фильмы демонстрировались в Копенгагене с синхронным переводом на датский. 29 ноября 1993 г. в минском Доме Искусств (пр. Скорины, 26), при участии галереи «Вита Нова», состоялся Третий фестиваль изустного кино, в котором – в течение 8-ми часов – прошли конкурсные показы полнометражных фильмов (три участника), короткометражных фильмов (три участника), внеконкурсный показ (два участника), показ ретроспективы (три участника). Затем на Белорусском телевидении вышел документальный фильм, посвященный фестивалю изустного кино. В последующие годы показы изустных фильмов проходили в Санкт-Петербурге (Музей нонкомформистского искусства «Пушкинская, 10»), Москве и т.д. 12 января 2008 г. фестиваль изустного кино, по инициативе поэта и критика Дмитрия Плакса и при поддержке отделения Посольства Швеции в Минске и Шведского института, прошел в Мальмё. Организатором фестиваля выступило местное издательство «Рамус», и в этом фестивале впервые кроме белорусских авторов приняли участие четыре шведских устных кинематографиста. Приветственные послания в адрес фестиваля направили известные кинорежиссеры Ларс фон Триер и Лукас Мудисон. Шведская критика высоко оценила креативность нового жанра европейского искусства, а Королевский драматический театр Швеции предложил свое пространство для проведения фестиваля изустного кино в Стокгольме осенью 2008 г.

  • Sport...

    Dzehalevich clinches title

    From: The Hindu
    Unseeded Ekaterina Dzehalevich of Belarus bounced back from an indifferent start to outplay fourth seed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the $50,000 ITF women’s tennis tournament at the DLTA Complex here on Saturday.

    Playing a crafty game with a lot of variation and sporting a gutsy attitude, the 21-year-old Dzelahevich turned the match around with a break in the second game of the second set that proved good enough to help her even the scores.

    Slow start

    After having stumbled to a slow start when she was a mute witness to the tall and powerfully built 18-year-old Belgian smashing her way to a 4-0 lead, it was a solid effort from Dzehalevich who had to be just content with her retrieving skill initially.

    Into the decider, Dzehalevich did very well to save a break point in the second game with a smart lob and broke her opponent in the next game to take a 2-1 lead.

    Thereafter, Wickmayer tried her best to hit her way past trouble, but Dzehalevich was too sharp to slacken her grip over the proceedings.

    Dzehalevich broke the Belgian in the seventh game as well and served out the match in the next game, smacking a forehand down the line on the fourth match point.

    It was the third singles title for Dzehalevich in the ITF women’s circuit and first at this level.

  • Endnote...

    Strasbourg demands to release Alyaksandr Kazulin

    From: Charter '97
    The Belarusian Week, dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian National Republic ended in Strasbourg. Meetings of the Belarusian democratic leaders with members of the European Parliament were organised in its frames. At all meetings the European politicians spoke for immediate and unconditional release of former candidate for presidency in Belarus Alyaksandr Kazulin and other Belarusian political prisoners.

    Vintsuk Vyachorka, deputy head of the Belarusian Popular Front Party and initiator of the event, told the Charter’97 press center how the Belarusian Week had been held in the European Parliament.

    Mr Vintsuk, how the Belarusian question was discussed in Strasbourg?

    – The largest fraction of the European Parliament – European People’s Party-European Democrats held a session, where the Belarusian question was heard. There were also a session of the Delegation for Relations with Belarus heading by Polish MEP Jacek Protasiewicz and a round table with the EPP-ED leadership. There also were many bilateral meetings with members of the European Parliament. The Belarusian political and public leaders had a special meeting with BNR President Ivonka Survilla. We discussed how to coordinate our activity, how to cooperate for our common ideals.

    – What view do the EP members have on Belarus?

    – The European Parliament is concerned with the fact the release of political prisoners was stopped. This question is not considered to be closed. Of course, they are happy that people are being released, but Alyaksandr Kazulin, Andrei Kim, Syarhei Parsyukevich are in prisons, criminal cases against dozen of oppositionist have been initiated. All Europeans understand it is a game, bargaining of human destinies. These bargaining won’t be accepted as real fulfilment of any conditions.

    The MEPs are concerned of threat of our independence, going from Russia, which is using our energy dependence. They have no illusions concerning Medvedev’s coming to power. It was formulated that a strategy of relations with Belarus should be worked out, in particular, how to get freedom and not to jeopardise the independence. I think, it a serious challenge for the members of the European Parliament, it’s important they won’t fell for the temptation to acknowledge Lukashenka for he will suddenly become a “defender” of independence.

    What concerns the position, the EP leadership and the MEPs have, firstly, it is confirmation that Belarusian independence and statehood is an integral part of European community, it is the main value. It is an unprecedented event and I’m happy I was one of its originators.

    The Europeans also hope for unity of the European forces. A unified list of candidates (not full yet) for the coming parliamentary election was welcomed. All of them understand what the regime is planning during the election. They are fully agree with us, if the authorities are aiming and hoping for partially, in best case, acknowledgement of the election campaign, the next requirements must be fulfilled: access of the opposition to election commissions, registration of all candidate from the unified list, real possibility to observe. It should take place not in vacuum, but in the context.