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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, April 13, 2008

Belarus attractive for foreign investments, Visas easier, Human trafficking, Belneftekhim, US policy, Polish Corruption, Opposition, Culture and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #298

    President: Belarus is becoming a very attractive country for foreign investments

    From: The office of the president and Belta
    Meeting with the top management of the Ferane Holding Company
    “We are interested to have the Ferane company develop its production in Belarus,” President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said to Ferane head Vladimir Bryntsalov in the course of their meeting on 11 April in Minsk.

    “When we met with you in 2006 we identified our main cooperation areas,” said the President. “And now I have some questions to ask you. First of all, is there anything that impedes your work in Belarus?” The President said he wished to see in details the results of the company’s work in Belarus and take a look at its plans. “We would like you to manufacture your products here,” the Head of State said.

    The President said in 2006 he came to an agreement with the Ferane company that it would invest money not just in its business, but also in Belarus’ social sector. “That agreement you have not just fulfilled, but you have overfulfilled it,” the President said and added that the total amount of money Ferane had invested in the Belarusian social sector approximated $ 20 million.

    After the meeting Vladimir Bryntsalov told reporters Alexander Lukashenko had praised the work the Ferane Holding Company had been doing in Belarus. “I’ve been working in Belarus for three years now, and I am quite happy with the results: our business is successful. We have been making good profits, and we’ve been investing some part of them in projects here,” said the guest.

    Belarus is becoming a very attractive country for foreign investments, Vladimir Bryntsalov, President of Russian holding Ferane, told media in Minsk on April 11.

    Vladimir Bryntsalov noted, during his meeting with the Belarusian head of state he reviewed results of the company’s operation on the Belarusian market. According to the source, Alexander Lukashenko spoke in positive terms about the results.

    In his words, in comparison with the recent past the presence of foreign business is much more pronounced in Belarus. “Belarus has a good climate for investments. An important thing is that there is no corruption. Which is why I recommend that my colleagues should pay attention to Belarus,” he said.

    The official underscored, his company is ready to participate in developing a major pharmaceutical business in Belarus.

    Holding company Ferane operates various businesses (real estate, pharmaceuticals, and others). Its value is estimated at $2.5 billion. The head company is ZAO Bryntsalov-A, which manufactures various medications. A joint venture Vitunipharm has been set up together with Belbiopharm in the free economic zone in Vitebsk. Apart from that, Ferane works hard sponsoring Belarusian schools, sport teams and others.

  • Note: Belarus President to address nation, parliament on April 22

    On April 22 President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is expected to give an Address to the Nation and the National Assembly. The head of state will make a speech at a joint plenary session of the Council of the Republic and the House of Representatives, the press service of the lower chamber of the Belarusian parliament told BelTA.

    Top officials and government executives, directors of state organisations and national mass media, representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps are expected to be present in the Oval Hall along with MPs.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Getting one-entry and double-entry Belarusian tourist visas now easier

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has simplified procedures one has to complete in order to get one-entry and double-entry tourist visas, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    In particular, foreign citizens no longer have to present the original tourist voucher to a Belarusian diplomatic establishment abroad.

    Belarusian visas can be obtained by foreign citizens and stateless persons by producing either an application from a Belarusian travel agency, or an application from a resort and recreation institution, or an application from a Belarusian citizen and a copy of the farm tourism business certificate. In some cases a consular official may issue visas due to other reasons.

    A visa application filed by citizens of the European Union, the USA, Canada, Japan and some other countries can be considered if a copy of the document, which is the reason for issuing the visa, is presented.

    A double-entry visa can be issued if the double entry is necessitated (visit to a neighbouring country and should be proved by the visa, tickets, and others).

    Belarus creates “belt of good-neighbourliness”, Andrei Dapkiunas says

    Belarus has been creating a “belt of good-neighbourliness” around its borders and has already signed an agreement with its neighbours, Andrei Dapkiunas, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus in the UN, stated at a session of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    The permanent representative underlined Belarus’ responsible and considerable contribution to the development of security structures based upon openness and trust between the countries. Belarus fulfills commitments on the agreements and conventions on conventional armaments, take part in the information exchange in line with the UN General Assembly decisions. In March 2008, the country joined the amendment to the Convention on Inhuman Weapons, Art. #1.

    At the session of the UN Disarmament Commission that started on April 7 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Belarusian side underlined the importance of executing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as well as its adaptive agreements.

    Belarus advocates global strategy to combat human trafficking, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus advocates global strategy to combat human trafficking, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov noted during a meeting with OSCE Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings Eva Biaudet.

    “Belarus pays a great attention to the work in this area in the country and in the international arena. We advocate global strategy to combat human trafficking,” Sergey Martynov said.

    According to him, the strategy does not contradict the OSCE plan; on the contrary it coincides with it. According to the minister, there is a need to coordinate the efforts in the legislative sphere with non-governmental organizations. He suggested using the international centre for training and retraining specialists in migration and prevention of trafficking in people of the Belarusian Interior Ministry for more intensive training of Belarusian and foreign specialists in this area.

    Ms Eva Biaudet thanked the Belarusian side for the support to prevent human trafficking. As to Sergei Martynov’s proposal to use the international training centre of the Belarusian Interior Ministry, she offered the OSCE assistance in developing such a training programme which would help international specialists to acquire the best knowledge in this area. “Whatever the efforts to counteract human trafficking, every country can do more. It is important that Belarus and the OSCE understand the necessity to take joint actions in this issue in the international arena,” Ms Eva Biaudet added.

    Belarus’ anti-trafficking legislation is effective, Eva Biaudet says

    Belarus’ legislation in the fight against human trafficking is effective, Ms Eva Biaudet, the OSCE Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, said at a meeting with senator Nikolai Cherginets in Minsk.

    “In Belarus the opinion of various groups is taken into account when legal acts are developed and this is of primary importance,” she said

    “I support your idea to intensify the prevention efforts. We also need to work on reducing the demand for “human commodity” to minimize the market,” she said.

    Having noted that Belarus completed the first programme on combating human trafficking and that the second programme 2008-2010 has been prepared, Ms. Eva Biaudet expressed the confidence that “the new programme will even more effective.”

    The second programme envisages an inter-sectional approach, which means the involvement of specialists from various departments and agencies. A priority attention will be given to rehabilitation of human trafficking victims. The list of partners engaged in the fight against this criminal business will be expanded.

    In July 2003 the OSCE Permanent Committee approved the plan of action to combat human trafficking. In July 2006 a decision was taken to reform the OSCE mechanism to provide assistance to the OSCE member-states in counteracting trafficking in human beings. In this connection the OSCE Permanent Committee instituted a post of OSCE Special Representative.

    CEI: Belarus works hard to counteract violence against children

    Belarus is a country, which works hard to counteract violence against children. The statement was made by Mykola Melenevsky, Deputy Director General of the Executive Secretariat of the Central European Initiative (CEI), at an international conference in Minsk on April 9.

    He noted, the CEI’s main purposes are cooperation, unification of efforts of all member-states and their governments in adaptation to the European environment. Project activities in various spheres are some of the most effective methods, which is why the conference for counteracting violence against children is held. The avenue is not the key priority for the CEI, however the organisation is ready to support countries in this area as well because there is a necessity, stressed Mykola Melenevsky.

    The Central European Initiative was established by countries of the Danube-Adriatic subregion in 1989 with a view to establishing flexible and pragmatic regional cooperation, collaboration in reconstruction of political and economic structures in Europe. The CEI unites 20 countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Belarus joined the CEI on a full-fledged basis in 1996.

  • Economics...

    Belneftekhim to attract around $430m in foreign investments in 2008

    From: BelTA
    In 2008 Belarusian petrochemical concern Belneftekhim plans to attract around $430 million in foreign investments for financing investment projects, head of the concern’s innovations division Viktor Plotnikov said during the international conference “Petroleum and petrochemical industry of the Republic of Belarus — prospects of international cooperation” in Minsk on April 11.

    He remarked, the foreign loans will be mainly used for oil refineries, while a considerable part of the money will be channelled into projects of petrochemical companies.

    All in all, in 2008 Belneftekhim plans to assimilate over Br3.3 trillion in investments, 125% as against 2007. The money mainly comes as proprietary savings of companies of the industry (82% of the total last year) while the share of loans is considerably lower than it is generally practised. Thus, the industry demonstrates a potential for extending cooperation with banks, believes the Belneftekhim representative.

    Viktor Plotnikov remarked, the concern’s investment programme, which runs till 2010, is aimed at enhancing the internal industry cooperation, increasing the proprietary raw stock base of the chemical and petrochemical industry, extending the choice and improving the competitive ability of products. During the current five-year term there are plans to channel over $6 million into retooling and developing Belneftekhim companies, with around $3.8 billion to be spent on upgrading chemical and petrochemical enterprises. Over the last two fixed-capital investments amounted to $2.5 billion. There are reasons to believe that within the remaining three years the target is most likely to be exceeded, said the source.

    In his words, at present there are around 80 major investment projects in progress in the Belarusian petrochemical industry, while the total number of investment projects stands at several hundreds if minor upgrades are taken into account. There are plans to start manufacturing about 200 new products in 2008-2010, namely alkylate, petroleum paraffin, polymeric sleeves, new fuels, lubricants, oils and others. The manufacturing of import-substituting products will be largely increased.

    Among the most important projects Viktor Plotnikov named the construction of Krasnoslobodsky and Berezovsky mines by Belaruskali, which is supposed to increase the production of potash fertilisers by 1 million tonnes by 2012. In 2007 Br148 billion was channelled into setting up new mines, while this year’s figure is set at Br178 billion. A project for setting up a major petrochemical installation in OAO Polymir is in the initial phase: the investment substantiation has been prepared and a business plan is in development. The number of priority projects also includes the reconstruction of facilities used to manufacture nylon fibres and cord fabrics in OAO Grodno Khimvolokno, reconstruction of the phosphoric acid shop in OAO Gomel Chemical Plant, starting up the production of super giant tyres in OAO Belshina, further modernisation of production facilities in OAO Mogilevkhimvolokno, Svetlogorsk Khimvolokno, OAO Grodno Azot and other companies.

    The Belarusian state petrochemical concern Belneftekhim incorporates 40 companies (35 joint-stock companies, 5 national unitary enterprises) and employs over 120,000 people. The concern accounts for around 30% of Belarus’ industrial output, almost 35% of the country’s export and foreign currency earnings, over 25% of taxes and fees paid to the state budget.

    China opposes US policy towards Belarus

    From: BelTA
    China took a stand against the US policy towards Belarus.

    China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu commented on the US economic sanctions against Belarus. She said “China is against interference in the internal affairs of other states under the pretext of defending democracy and human rights, takes a stand against exerting pressure and threatening economic sanctions under the disguise of promoting human rights”.

    According to her, “the international community should give Belarus the credit it deserves for the social stability, economic growth, and improved living standards achieved under President Alexander Lukashenko”. Finally Jiang Yu expressed hope that “the sides will settle the disputes by means of a dialogue based on equal rights and mutual respect”.

    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry had stated earlier that the United States of America had shaken their reliability as an international partner by imposing unilateral economic sanctions. “As for the American side, which resorted to the unilateral measures of economic pressure on Belarus, it is clear for everyone that it has violated the international law from the UNGA resolutions to bilateral agreements between Belarus and the USA”, spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov said.

  • From the international press...

    US lawyer detained in Belarus being denied medication, relative says

    From: IHT
    The brother of an American lawyer being held in Belarus on suspicion of using false documents says authorities are denying the detainee medication for his diabetes.

    New York-based Mark Zeltser said Friday that the Belarusian KGB is allowing 54-year-old lawyer Emanuel Zeltser only one of the four sets of tablets he has been taking for the last 15 years to treat the disease.

    Mark Zeltser says he has written a letter to prosecutors in Belarus saying that "Emanuel is dying in prison." The KGB has refused to comment.

    Its officers detained Zeltser at Minsk airport March 12. Zelster faces three years in prison if convicted.

    Turkcell to bid for Belarus mobile operator

    From: Reuters
    Turkey's leading mobile phone operator Turkcell TCELL.IS said on Friday it has decided to bid for state-owned Belarussian mobile operator BeST as it seeks to expand its reach in the region.

    "Our company has decided to begin works to make a bid to shareholders to buy a majority stake in Belarussian Telecommunication Network (BeST)," Turkcell said in a statement.

    Last year Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said the government was ready to cede control of BeST for around $500 million.

    In October, Belarus agreed to sell control of the country's No. 2 mobile phone operator MDC, operating under the Velcom brand, to Telekom Austria (TELA.VI: Quote, Profile, Research) for $1 billion.

    Turkcell's major shareholders are Nordic telecommunications company TeliaSonera AB (TLSN.ST: Quote, Profile, Research), Russian private equity firm Altimo and unlisted Turkish conglomerate Cukurova.

    Turkcell already has interests in mobile phone operations in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Georgia and has repeatedly said it wants to expand in the regions around Turkey.

    Jewish Remains Dug Up in Belarus

    From: AP
    Local history professor, Yevgeny Malikov shows human bones at a sports stadium in the city of Gomel, 300 km (187.5 miles) southeast of the capital Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, April 9, 2008. Workers reconstructing a sports stadium on the site of an 18th century Jewish cemetery in Belarus say they have learned to ignore the human bones in the soil being dug up and carted away to city dumps. The stadium in Gomel, a town that was once a center of Jewish life, is one of four that were built on top of Jewish cemeteries in the former Soviet republic.
    Workers rebuilding a sports stadium on the site of an 18th century Jewish cemetery in Belarus say they have no choice but to consign the bones to city dumps.

    "It's impossible to pack an entire cemetery into sacks," said worker Mikhail Gubets, adding that he stopped counting the skulls when the number went over 100.

    But critics say it's part of a pattern of callous indifference toward Belarus' Jewish heritage that was prevalent when the country was a Soviet republic and hasn't changed.

    The stadium in Gomel, Belarus' second largest city and a center of Jewish life until World War II, is one of four that were built on top of Jewish cemeteries around the country.

    The Gomel cemetery was destroyed when the stadium was built in 1961, but the remains lay largely undisturbed until this spring when reconstruction began and a bulldozer turned up the first bones.

    A Jewish leader in Gomel, Vladimir Gershanok, says he asked the builders to put the bones into sacks for reburial at a cemetery that has a monument to Holocaust victims.

    "We know we can't stop the construction but we're trying to minimize the destruction," Gershanok said.

    But city authorities have ruled that the construction can go ahead because the bones are more than 50 years old.

    Igor Poluyan, the city official responsible for building sports facilities, says he doesn't understand the problem. "If something was scattered there, we'll collect it and take it away," he said.

    A history professor, Yevgeny Malikov, sees the cemetery as part of the city's heritage. He has filled three sacks with bones and pulled aside two of the unearthed marble gravestones. Other gravestones are piled near a trash bin or already carried away. Some of the bones have been carried off by stray dogs.

    "The history of the city is being thrown into the dump together with the human remains," Malikov said.

    Jews began settling in Gomel in the 16th century and by the end of the 19th century made up more than half of the population. In 1903, they made history by being the first to resist a pogrom, defending 26 synagogues and prayer houses.

    Most of Gomel's 40,000 Jews managed to flee before the Nazis arrived. The 4,000 who remained were shot in November 1941. Only a few thousand Jews now live in the city of 500,000.

    Oleg Korzhuyev, 38, who lives on Karl Marx Street at the edge of the site, said the workers aren't happy about digging up human bones, "but if they find a gold tooth then it's a real celebration."

    Another city, Grodno, experienced a similar problem while reconstructing a stadium built on a Jewish cemetery. The excavated earth and bones were scattered into a ravine.

    Jewish graves also have been disturbed in neighboring Ukraine.

    "It's not just a Jewish issue, it's this general Soviet legacy," said Ukraine's chief rabbi. Yakov Blaikh. "They didn't respect people while they were alive and they don't respect them when they are dead."

    This month, the Jewish community in the city of Vinnyntsa was able to stop construction of an apartment building on a pre-World War II Jewish cemetery.

    Ukrainian authorities apologized, saying they did not realize the construction would affect the cemetery. Belarus, on the other hand, has been "one of the least responsive countries on all Jewish issues," according to Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israeli Simon Wiesenthal Center.

    "The government is simply erasing Jewish history from the face of this land," said Yakov Basin, vice president of the Belarusian Jewish Council.

    Before the war, about 1 million Jews lived in Belarus and 800,000 of them died in the Holocaust. Today they number 27,000 in the country of 10 million.

    Three organizers of Internet child porn ring arrested in Belarus, official says

    From: Naveny
    Three organizers of a child pornography ring operating via the Internet have been arrested in Belarus in an international police operation, Andrey Miklashevich, deputy chief of the Belarusian interior ministry's cyber crime prevention department, said at a news conference on Friday.

    Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians were involved in the ring that was selling access to more than 270 sites featuring indecent images of children.

    The international investigation, which started in June 2007 at the proposal of the Belarusian police, is continuing.

    More than 10 people suspected of creating and distributing Internet child pornography were spotted during the operation.

    The three, grabbed at the beginning of this year, were charged under Part 3 of the Belarusian Criminal Code's 343 with distribution of child pornography.

    According to Mr. Miklashevich, the Belarusian police seized the database of the ring's customers that included more than 60,000 credit card numbers and user accounts, including more than 34,000 based in the United States, some 5,000 in Germany, 2,500 in the United Kingdom, more than 2,000 in Canada and France, and 1,500 in Australia.

    Posing as customers, FBI officers helped Belarusian counterparts collect evidence by recording undercover purchases of pornography materials, Mr. Miklashevich said.

    The server of the billing system was reportedly located in the United States.

    Belarus could introduce criminal responsibility for storing child pornography

    From: Interfax
    The Belarusian Interior Ministry has proposed to make responsibility for spreading child pornography more severe, as well as to introduce criminal punishment for its storage, deputy director of the department for countering hi-tech crimes Andrey Miklashevich said.

    "There is criminal responsibility for storing and downloading child pornography. Such a provision should be introduced in Belarus as well," Miklashevich told journalists on Friday.

    Miklashevich also referred to experts saying that "people who watch child pornography could be more prone to violence against children, including their own."

  • From the Opposition...

    Struggle against import unfolds in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    All imported purchases in Belarus should be well grounded. Zyanon Lomats, chairman of the State Control Committee (SCC) said it in Minsk.

    Situation with imported purchases in Minsk region and measures taken by the state bodies to optimise import and create import substitution industries were discussed at the session of the board of the State Control Committee of the Minsk region. Zyanon Lomats noted at the session:

    “Some officials put their private interests above state interests, and it is the reason that we have so many violations in fulfilment of a programme of import substitution. Belarus produces a wide range of products, so we needn’t import analogical production. It concerns polyethylene water pipes, cables, machine constitutive elements, water and energy meters, etc.”

    “We are losing millions of dollars on our inactivity and formalism when fulfilling import substitution programme,” Zyanon Lomats emphasised. He added that concrete people should bear responsibility for it.

    Speaking about the Minsk region, the SCC chairman said the committee would find a reason of the fact that two import substitution projects were abandoned. He meant oak and ash milling and shrink foil production. As Zyanon Lomats thinks, “these projects are not implemented because they affect interests of some state officials.”

    Participants of the session also noted that there is no demand for national import substituting production at the inner market. For example, military boots are produced in Belarus, but this production was bought by Russian force structures, while the Belarusian Ministry of Defence bought footwear in Saint Petersburg. For all that, Belarusian production is twice as chip as Russian one.

    Uladzislau Tsydzik, Minsk region SCC head, said at the session there was no proper control of import substitution programme. So the State Control Committee is going to improve control of this programme implementation and switch it onto a proper track.

    Opposition activists sacked

    From: Viasna
    Vitsebsk opposition members have been put under pressure after the March 25 actions. Several activists that had to serve from 8 to 15 days of prison for participating in the celebration of the Freedom Day, were either recommended to leave their jobs or fired by their employers. Two BPF Conservative Christians members Ian Taupyha and Aliaksandr Salauian were forced to leave their jobs at private companies. Another activist Hanna Latyshava is also likely to lose her job after she took part in the Iryna Kazulina memorial action.

    Rally leader fined

    Pukhavichy district court sentenced Siarhei Abrazouski to a fine of 1,400,000 roubles for organizing an unauthorized action of protest against the construction of a chemicals plant. Abrazouski considers himself innocent and is going to appeal the decision.

    The action took place in the village of Druzhny, Pukhavichy district, Minsk region, on March 22. Abrazouski along with a number of activists had applied for a permit to hold the action but their claims were left unsatisfied.

    The plant is to be constructed by a Russian company Avgust-Bel. It will produce hazardous chemicals, which is opposed by the people living in the neighbouring villages.

    A group of activists have launched a campaign, trying to attract attention to the feasibility of the construction.

    Ludmila Atakulava facing expulsion

    On April 10 Ludmila Atakulava, a Young front activist, was invited for a conversation to Belarusian State Economic University administration where she was informed that she would soon be expelled from the university for poor attendance.

    ‘They had already known about my detention after an action in Polatsk, so it is clear that they were ordered to expel me, - says Ludmila. – The administration is now analyzing my attendance during the year. I have not missed too many lectures this year, but if they count the classes I have missed because of the detention and the trial, they will have official grounds for my expulsion.’

    It is not the first time Ludmila is facing expulsion. After a 15-day imprisonment in winter she was warned that she would not study at the university if she were detained again.

  • Around the region...

    Ukraine urges Russia to end threats

    From: UPI
    The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Saturday Russia should "stop the practice of threats" over Ukraine's attempts to join NATO.

    After the chief of Russia's General Staff, army Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, said Russia would likely increase its border security if Ukraine joined the international organization, the Ukrainian ministry said such comments interfered with the country's affairs, RIA Novosti reported.

    "Statements by high-ranking Russian officials are ... anti-Ukrainian... and are direct interference in Ukraine's internal affairs," the Foreign Ministry said.

    The United States has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine and Georgia's bid to join NATO, but on Thursday NATO members postponed an official membership offer to the organization's Membership Action Plan.

    The NATO members said the potential membership offer to Georgia and Ukraine would be revisited in December, the Russian news agency said.

    Russia plans to end space tourism from 2010

    From: Earth Times
    Chief of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov, said Saturday that Russia may stop selling seats to tourists on its spacecraft starting in 2010 because of the planned expansion of the crew of the International Space Station (ISS). Perminov said that the station's permanent crew was expected to grow from the current three to six in 2010, which would mean that Russia would have fewer extra seats available for tourists on its Soyuz spacecraft, Interfax news agency reported.

    US company Space Adventures has reserved places on board the Soyuz spacecraft up to 2009, according to the reports. With Russia's cooperation, the company has already sent five tourists into space.

    Space tourism has attracted a great deal of criticism in Russia with Vitaly Lopota, the president of the Energia space rocket corporation, saying that space was not a holiday destination.

    "Tourism is a forced activity. I am sorry, but we have built the ISS not for space tourists but for serving the needs of the people of Earth," Lopota was quoted by Interfax as saying.

    In the future space tourism would only be offered by private companies, the reports said.

    However Perminov said that Russia would be in a position and willing to help private companies to implement similar programmes. Millionaire space enthusiasts have paid up to 40 million dollars for trips into space.

    In October 2008, computer games designer Richard Garriott, whose father was an astronaut, is due to travel into space.

    Russia was celebrating Cosmonauts' Day Saturday when it marks the first manned flight into space.

    In his congratulatory letter to those working in the space industry, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was the first nation "to open the way to the stars to humanity."

    Putin Friday announced that Russia's space programme would be stepped up with the speed financing of a new cosmodrome in the Far East to help maintain the nation's leading role in space.

    Russia to create manned assembly complex in orbit

    From: Xinhuan
    Russia is going to create a manned assembly complex in orbit, the chief of the Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) Anatoly Perminov said here on Saturday.

    "We shall create this complex in order to make dockings in orbit, build craft there and send them to the Moon, Mars and other planets," Perminov was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as telling a new briefing.

    "This proposal was on the whole approved at the meeting of the Russian Security Council on Friday, but a specific time has not been determined," he said.

    Perminov also said it was clearly stated at the Security Council meeting that Russia would use the Baikonur cosmodrome until 2050 under an inter-governmental lease agreement.

    The first rocket launch from the new Russian cosmodrome Vostochny (Eastern) that will be built in the Amur Region is planned for 2015.

    The first launch of a piloted spacecraft from Vostochny is planned for 2018, he said.

    The Roskosmos head explained that the new generation piloted spacecraft supposedly would weigh 18-22 tones, and it will be impossible to launch it with the available rockets. With all the modifications, the Soyuz can carry no more than 16-17 tones, so itwill be impossible to use it for the purposes.

    The new rocket Angara is viewed as the most promising launch vehicle to carry piloted spacecraft, but there is an engine problem. Russia has no engines so far for rockets to carry spacecraft not only to orbits around the earth, but also to other planets, Perminov said.

    A Russia forgotten by Moscow; As the booming capital undergoes its massive makeover, remote areas wither with decrepit infrastructure, crimping national economic growth

    From: Chicogo Tribune
    The van moves only a few feet every 15 seconds. Gear teeth sound as if they're being ground into bumps. With every lurch forward, passengers inside tighten their grips on seat cushions, an armrest, a spare tire, anything bolted down and within reach.

    The Russian-made UAZ 412 lists left and right like an ocean-bound dinghy as its traverses the frozen Mezen River, rumbling over shards of ice and foot-deep slush warmed by the morning sun.

    Here, just 48 miles below the Arctic Circle, the anxious souls who routinely make this harrowing, 45-minute crossing are hardly the thrill-seeking type. They are everyday Russians, making the trip to Kamenka the only way they can—across a river without a bridge but covered with ice thick enough to cross by vehicle.

    Having no bridge has meant bankruptcy for the town's major employer, a sawmill. Virtually no one in town works.

    Today's Russia shouldn't be viewed solely through the prism of Moscow money. As Dmitry Medvedev prepares to assume the presidency May 7 from his longtime mentor, Vladimir Putin, he faces several herculean challenges weighing the country down, one of the biggest being revamping and replacing dilapidated, Soviet-era infrastructure.

    That a town like Kamenka —with an able, willing workforce and a viable mill—is so cut off from the rest of the world seems incomprehensible in today's Russia, where consistently high oil prices have allowed the Kremlin to amass a $157 billion rainy-day fund and pay off almost all of its foreign debt from the Soviet era.

    But while Moscow continues its massive makeover, sections of the country still struggle with bad roads, poor electrical service and dilapidated housing. More than two-thirds of Russians lack access to land-line telephone service. Since Jan. 1, natural-gas explosions at apartment buildings in 13 cities have killed at least 23 people and injured 47 more. Causes have ranged from gas line leaks to the use of gas stoves to heat apartments in winter.

    An economic handicap
    Poor infrastructure has made many parts of Russia unproductive and burdensome. And while foreign investors are increasingly looking to Russia, the level of foreign investment could be much greater if infrastructure far from Moscow underwent a makeover of its own.

    "It's clear that Russia's infrastructure troubles will handicap the country's economy for the foreseeable future," said Vladimir Salnikov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-term Forecasting. "Infrastructure development needs to become an engine of the economy. If nothing is done, bad infrastructure will continue to hold back growth."

    The abysmal state of Russia's road network creates losses to the nation's economy estimated at 3 percent of its annual gross domestic product. That is more than the country spends on defense every year, according to the Kremlin.

    The problem of bad roads, or no roads at all, is especially acute in Siberia and the Russian Far East, where it isn't uncommon to find villages connected to the rest of Russia solely by expensive helicopter trips.

    Forced to fend for themselves, some villages conjure up curious ways of adapting.

    The village of Borodinka, 37 miles east of the Ural Mountains, is connected to the nearest town, Chirok, not by road but by narrow-gauge railway. Until this year, local officials had balked at building the village a road, so residents had to turn to the handcar, the railroad maintenance conveyance best known as an iconic image of the American Wild West.

    The locomotive that used to ferry villagers to Chirok and beyond broke down years ago, after the village's logging enterprise shut down. With their village facing extinction, they made their own handcars out of motor-scooter engines, slats of wood and narrow-gauge train wheels.

    "It's impossible for an ambulance to get here when someone is sick, so we hook a trailer to a handcar and take the person into town that way," said Borodinka's mayor, Emilia Domrocheva. "Sometimes it's too late, and the person dies on the way."

    Earlier this year, authorities began construction on a road to Borodinka that, when finished, should eliminate the need to use the railway.

    Seasonal adjustments
    Russians in Kamenka also have had to adapt. Between May and October, ferries take townspeople across the Mezen. In April and November, when the river is in midthaw or midfreeze, an $11, five-minute trip in an AN-2 biplane is the way in or out. By December the ice is thick enough for Kamenka's UAZ vans, though villagers pour water onto the ice to reinforce it.

    What villagers cannot adapt to is the mill's shutdown. In 2007 it processed just 1,300 cubic yards of wood, down from 417,000 in 1956. Its cavernous workroom stands dark and silent, its power saws rusted and caked with last year's sawdust.

    A decent bridge and road would get the mill back on its feet. Right now it has to ship timber and processed wood along the river, which limits its operations to six weeks each summer because of the Mezen's changing conditions.

    "It's as if we're in the Great Depression that the U.S. suffered in the 1930s," said Kamenka's mayor, Sergei Mikheyev.

    In Arkhangelsk, the province's capital and home to 356,000 Russians, ramshackle wood cabins more than a century old dot the city, their frames badly warped by the swampy, shifting ground. One of every 10 residents have no running water and must line up at neighborhood standpipes with buckets in hand, said Oleg Golovin, Arkhangelsk deputy mayor.

    "People in Moscow don't know how people in the regions live," Golovin said. "They've got all the money but they don't know how to allocate this money."

    Across Russia, a weak, aging electric grid holds the country back. But the system needs more than an overhaul, it needs to expand. It is an upgrade that the Kremlin says it needs to reach its goal of doubling the country's GDP within a decade.

    In his state of the nation address last year, Putin laid out an ambitious array of objectives: 26 new nuclear power plants in the next 12 years; new hydropower stations in Siberia and the Far East; a boost in electricity production by two-thirds by 2020.

    "In essence, our project amounts to a second electrification of the country," he said.

    Outages stir protests
    Power outages in the southern Russian city of Makhachkala last winter were severe enough to prompt thousands to take to the streets and protest authorities' handling of the crisis.

    The outages occurred in the dead of winter, when subzero cold chilled the city. They spanned three months and left thousands without lights, heat or water virtually every day, for most of the day. Aging, overloaded electricity infrastructure was blamed for the crisis, though a dispute between utility companies over unpaid debt contributed to the cutbacks in power.

    "We had to put on layers of clothes—coats, sweaters, socks, extra pants, everything we could find," said Angela Magomedova, 27, a waitress at a Makhachkala cafe who lives with her father, sister and two brothers in a downtown apartment.

    "We went through 10 candles a night, and kept filling buckets, cooking pots, our bathroom sink with water whenever there was enough water pressure. It was like in the Middle Ages."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish soccer wrestles with problems from match-fixing scandal

    From: Canadien Press
    Recent revelations from an investigation into match-fixing in Polish soccer have rattled investors in the sport and turned up pressure on the country's soccer federation to combat the problem or step down.

    In recent weeks, the scandal has triggered public outcry and forced the federation to call an extraordinary meeting for Sunday to address the issue and respond to government calls for its board to resign.

    But the federation insists that three years after Wroclaw prosecutors launched an investigation and charged 117 people - including members of the Polish Soccer Federation, coaches, referees, players and club officials - with rigging matches in the top domestic leagues, progress is being made.

    "We feel that the fight is going in the right direction, the prosecutors are working very intensively and effectively, and there have been results," said federation spokesman Zbigniew Kozminski. "There is a big problem, but soccer in Poland is so strong that it can get through this and move forward."

    Not everyone agrees. Two weeks after match-fixing charges were brought against former Korona Kielce coach Dariusz Wdowczyk, sponsors have begun to reconsider their investments.

    Kielce owner Krzysztof Klicki said last week he would end his investment in the team in June. Klicki's announcement came days after Wdowczyk, a former national team player, and his staff were implicated in handing out bribes to officials in 2003-04.

    Klicki - who has spent some 40 million zlotys (C$18.8 million) on the club since 2002 - said his name had been tarnished as a result of the scandal. He added that he didn't foresee steps being taken to improve the situation in the near future.

    Meanwhile, PTK Centertel, a key investor in the top league, is considering dropping its 60 million zloty (C$28.1 million) sponsorship, said Wojciech Jabczynski, spokesman for PTK's parent company, Telekomunikacja Polska S.A.

    The scandal "definitely doesn't benefit the image of the league or its sponsor," Jabczynski said.

    According to Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski, 29 clubs from various divisions have been implicated in the scandal, and that number could still rise.

    For its part, the federation has relegated six clubs to lower divisions for fixing matches, but critics say the sport's authorities have dragged their feet on combatting the problem.

    The affair has also cast a shadow on the country's first ever European Championship appearance this summer in Austria and Switzerland, as well as its stuttering preparations to co-host the tournament with Ukraine in 2012.

    Then again, Italy won the 2006 World Cup while a match-fixing scandal in its domestic league simmered at home - a fact that could give Poles hope ahead of this summer's tournament.

    Polish Justice Minister: 29 clubs involved in corruption scandal

    In a related story, Poland's Justice Minister, Zbigniew Cwiakalski, told a parliamentary committee Friday that the corruption scandal enveloping Polish football currently involves 29 clubs and could increase. Interior Minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, has already called for the resignation of the board of the Polish Football Federation (PZPN), saying a "radical decision was necessary."

    Last month, former Polish international Dariusz Wdowczyk, was charged with match-fixing while 17 people, including referees and federation officials, received suspended prison sentences last December.

    First division sides Zaglebie Lubin and Widzew Lodz will play in the second division next season after being implicated in corrupt activities in the 2004-2005 season.

    Polish Bribery exposed in Tesco affair

    From: Prague Post
    While hints and complaints of corruption regularly make the rounds in Prague business circles, rarely have such charges surfaced as prominently as they did in a recent case involving British retailer Tesco.

    Prague 1 Municipal Court recently convicted one of Tesco’s former executives, Daniela Cepkova, on attempted fraud charges after she sought a bribe worth 60,000 euros (1.5 million Kc/$93,000) from a Polish businessman. She was sentenced to one year of probation. Last April, Cepkova told Wlodzimier Malinowski that Tesco would stock his textile and clothing products in return for the bribe. Cepkova had no authority to deliver on such a promise and pretended to hold her bosses’ position, according to court documents.

    Tesco’s management caught wind of Cepkova’s suspicious activities and called in police, said Jana Matouakova, corporate affairs manager for Tesco Stores Czech Republic.

    At the time, the police told Matouakova that this was only the second time they had opened a corruption inquiry concerning a private business; most corruption investigations involve public institutions.

    The police soon caught Cepkova and her accomplice, Valary Koffi Obla, red-handed as Malinowski handed her the bribe in an envelope at the Jalta Hotel on Wenceslas square. Cepkova’s conviction, which can still be appealed, turned out not to be on charges of corruption, however. The presiding judge, Libor Vavra, found her guilty of attempted fraud instead.

    “She was only trying to point to something wrong that she thought was going on in the company, the way they do in bad movies,” V?vra said at the court hearing March 31.

    In a follow-up interview, Vavra told The Prague Post that if Cepkov? was trying to point out endemic problems at Tesco, she went about it the wrong way.

    “She could have told police or the state prosecutor of her suspicions instead of acting on her own initiative,” he said, adding that “her motive may have been to undermine her bosses’ authority, with whom she did not get along well, while also enriching herself.”

    It can be difficult for private companies to prevent such bribery. For example, the energy utility giant CEZ has a tender process that requires two groups of experts to evaluate the technical and economic aspects of any bid independently, said spokeswoman Eva Novakova.

    Setting up two evaluation committees, one looking at the technical and the other at the financial aspects of a bid, can be a first step toward a comprehensive fraud risk management regime, said Sirshar Qureshi, director of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ forensic services department.Corruption is still a problem in Central Europe, Qureshi said. A recent survey by his company found that 18 percent of polled companies in Central and Eastern Europe admitted to either soliciting or offering a bribe.

    “What is even more serious is that 30 percent of companies had been asked to pay a bribe and 45 percent of companies felt that they had lost an opportunity to a competitor whom they believed may have paid a bribe,” he added.

    Polish police abuse MEP trial continues

    From: The News
    Nine years after arrest, the trial of Witold Tomaczak, Polish MEP charged with verbal assault of police officers and breaking traffic regulations, continues.

    Tomczak failed to appear at his first hearing but the court decided to launch the trial nevertheless and questioned the two police officers whom Tomczak allegedly abused.

    Witold Tomczak is charged with verbally abusing two police officers who stopped him as he was driving upstream on a one-way street. Tomczak only admitted to breaking the traffic regulations, adding that it was the policemen's conduct that was outrageous.

    The event happened almost nine years ago. The trial could not be launched at an earlier date, since Tomczak, previously member of the Polish parliament from the League of Polish Families (LPR), now an Member of the European parliament, was protected by his immunity.

  • Sport...

    Belarus beats Switzerland in doubles to remain alive in Davis Cup tie

    From: Naveny
    Max Mirnyi and Vladimir Voltchkov dashed Switzerland’s hopes of a quick Davis Cup victory over Belarus with a four-set doubles win over Stanislas Wawrinka and Yves Allegro on Saturday.

    The 30-year-old Belarusians defeated the Swiss duo 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2, but Switzerland still leads 2-1 in the best-of-five tie in Euro-African Zone Group One, which began in Minsk on Friday.

    Mirnyi was scheduled to play against Wawrinka and Vladimir Ignatik against Stephane Bohli in Sunday’s reverse singles, but the captains have the right to make substitutions.

    On Friday, Bohli beat Mirnyi 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (5), and Wawrinka overcame the stubborn challenge of the 17-year-old Ignatik, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

    Belarus unexpectedly replaced veteran player Valchkow with 17-year-old for Davis Cup rubber against Switzerland’s Wawrinka

    In a related story, Belarus unexpectedly replaced veteran player Uladzimir Valchkow (Voltchkov) with 17-year-old Uladzimir Ihnatsik for the singles rubber against Stanislas Wawrinka on the opening day of their Davis Cup tie against Switzerland in Minsk.

    Belarus Captain Dzmitry Tatur said that he had originally expected Mr. Valchkow to play the rubber on Friday and the doubles rubber the following day. “The substitution of Ihnatsik for Valchkow was unexpected. I won’t give the grounds in greater detail so far for an obvious reason,” he said on April 10.

    Switzerland Captain Severin Luthi expressed surprise at the substitution but said that it would not affect the Swiss team’s morale.

    Max Mirnyi, Belarus’ highest-ranked player, faces Stephane Bohli in the opening singles rubber, while Mr. Ihnatsik, who is No. 601 in the ATP rankings, and world No. 30 Wawrinka play later in the day.

    The winner of the tie will be just one step away from advancing to the Davis Cup World Group, the world’s 16-team tennis elite.

    Belarus back on the map

    From: Toronto Sun
    When Sergei Kostitsyn was a 15-year old kid, he remembers watching what he refers to as the "biggest moment in the hockey history of Belarus."

    In the quarter-finals of the 2002 Olympics Games in Salt Lake City, a shot, taken by Belarus defenceman Vladimir Kopat from 70 feet out, bounced off the mask of Swedish goalie Tommy Salo and in to the net.

    The goal eliminated Sweden from the tournament in one of the most monumental upsets in international hockey history.

    Almost six years later, Sergei and his brother Andrei put Belarus on the hockey map again by each scoring in the first 122 seconds of play in the Montreal Canadiens' 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night.

    Admitting the brothers had called home to Belarus to talk to their parents about their heroics, a modest Sergei said yesterday he did not think their goals ranked among the top plays all-time in Belarus hockey.

    Sergei, though, is just happy to finally strut his hockey skills at the NHL level after playing on one of junior hockey's top lines a year ago.

    Belarus 6, Canada 4

    In a related story, Windsor Spitfires forward Taylor Hall and defenceman Ryan Ellis each scored a goal in Canada's 6-4 exhibition loss to Belarus Thursday in Minsk as the two teams prepare for Sunday's start of the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Russia.
    Hall's goal tied the game briefly at 1-1 for Canada and Ellis scored the final goal of the game. Spitfire teammate Greg Nemisz is also a member of the Canadian squad.
    "It's a pretty good feeling to have scored the first goal, but at the same time it's meaningless as the final score was not in our favour," said the 16-year-old Hall, who is Canada's youngest player. "We'll get back at it (today in an exhibition with Finland) and come up with a better effort.

    "We'll get better every day, take it step by step, and we'll be a good team in the end when it really counts at the world championship."

  • Cultural scene...

    Группа “HOM” в Минске

    From: Minsk Blog
    13-го апреля в Минске ожидается редкое, уникальное культурное событие. Легенда русского рока, никогда в жизни не исполняющая русского рока, «короли Санкт-Петербурга» (так они сами себя называют – и совершенно справедливо!), культовый андерграундный коллектив 90-х, творческое объединение «НОМ» наконец-то прибудет в столицу Беларуси, чтобы исполнить свои бессмертные хиты, а также порадовать белорусского ценителя авангардного кинематографа своей новейшей авторской кинолентой «Фантомас снимает маску».

    Статусность и эпохальное величие коллектива «НОМ» не нуждается в дополнительном представлении. Во время их выступлений на европейских фестивалях зрители восторженно кричат что-то про «русских Laibach» и «русских Residents». Сами же музыканты четко следуют традициям западного андерграунда (экспериментируя со всеми стилями – от футуристического электро-попа до панка и хард-рока, индастриела и даже оперных, классических эксерсизов) в музыке и ОБЭРИУТовского абсурдизма, в эстетике Хармса, Введенского и Заболоцкого, в лирике. «Если бы Хармс жил в наше время, он наверняка был бы участником группы НОМ» - говорят некоторые критики. На деле все даже несколько сложнее модернистских литературных отсылок – пост-модерновое слияние русского народного лубочного символизма, постсоветских бытовых кошмаров, мракобесной народной мифологии, трогательной и задорной дадаистской чепухи, потешно вербализированных городских легенд и прочих фантасмагорий повседневности с качественной, плотно сыгранной и порой даже танцевальной (!) музыкой давным-давно трансформировала в массовом сознании функцию коллектива НОМ в общекультурологическую и социальную, а не только музыкально-развлекательную. Концерт НОМ – это настоящее волшебное путешествие в странный и сюрреалистический мир, логика которого, если задуматься, намного более целесообразна, чем та, на которой строятся законы окружающей нас повседневности. Людям, умудрившимся по пути к стабильной, спокойной взрослой жизни напрочь растерять чувство юмора и здоровый инфантилизм, позволяющий искренне радоваться сумасшедшим песенкам НОМ, на этом концерте делать нечего. Хотя, может быть, наоборот – только концерт НОМ сможет им помочь заново обрести свое истинное «я». Такова терапевтическая сила и мощь творчества легендарных санкт-петербуржцев.

    Творческое объединение «НОМ» занимается не только музыкой – еще они выпускают веселые и страшные книжки (наиболее известные из них – «Чудовища» авторства тандема Сергея Бутузова и Андрея Кагадеева, а также чудесные «Железнодорожные истории», рассказанные бывалым работником рельс и шпал, Александром Ливером, ныне поющем в женевской опере). Есть в их компании и художник Копейкин – он рисует тематические плакаты, открытки, обложки для альбомов, настенные календари и отдельные, самодостаточные авторские произведения. Его работы нынче стоят немало – художник Копейкин культовая фигура! С радостью и интересом участники «НОМ» занимаются и кинематографом. Помимо обилия короткометражных роликов, видеоклипов и просто забавных визуальных скетчей (самые известные из которых – видеоклип «Случай в Пионерской Комнате», видеоруководство о том, как вырезать из хурмы «идеальной формы геометрические фигуры» и мини-фильм про слоненка Гобо), музыканты сняли несколько полноценных кинокартин. Фильм «Пасека», с характерным для мистических триллеров напряжением повествующий о страшных вещах, происходящих в маленьком городке, обрел культовый статус – как благодаря мощному сюжету, до последнего мгновения держащему зрителей в трепете, так и благодаря игре актеров (которыми и являются участники группы!). Культовым стал и фильм «Геополипы» - сюрреальная политическая сатира на тему литературных произведений, воспевающих великих вождей 20-го столетия.

    Одна из свежих работ группы напрямую связана с Беларусью. «Беларуская быль» - сорокаминутная трагикомедия о странном случае, произошедшим с обычным белорусским гаишником. В Минске, во время концерта «НОМ», наверняка можно будет приобрести этот фильм непосредственно у участников группы.

    Главная интрига минского концерта «НОМ» также связана с кинематографом – перед выступлением состоится презентация новейшей киноработы группы под названием «Фантомас снимает маску». Съемки фильма проходили во Франции – это связано с тем, что создателям киноленты хотелось сохранить в ней стилистические особенности, присущие французским комедиям конца 60-х. Традиционно музыканты снялись в фильме всем составом. Стоит отметить, что в «НОМ» переиграло немало людей – некоторые из них уже не участвуют в жизни коллектива столь регулярно, как обожаемые народом И. Турист и А. Кагадеев (которых минский зритель увидит своими глазами!), но периодически встречаются с друзьями в рамках съемок фильмов и для редких концертов в «золотом составе».

    Сюжет «Фантомаса» связан с тем, что участники «НОМ», как и прочие поклонники этого замечательного фильма, давным-давно мечтали узнать, чем же закончилась эта история с Фантомасом и что стало с их любимыми героями. Не дождавшись продолжения, они решили снять фильм самостоятельно. Аннотация к фильму обещает увлекательное зрелище: «комиссар Жюв вышел на пенсию и поселился в своем домике на окраине Парижа, инспектор Бертран женился и стал счастливым отцом большого семейства. Тихая обеспеченная французская старость. Про Фантомаса постепенно все забыли. Но он не забыл. Однажды летним днем в конце месяца Жюв, по обыкновению, отправился на почту, за пенсией. Ничто не предвещало беды…».

    Хотите знать, что было дальше? Встретимся на концерте «НОМ» 13-го апреля в клубе Fabrique.

    Guitarists from Latin America to tour Belarus

    From: BelTA
    A famous family duet of guitarists Cecile Sikeira (Uruguay) and Fernando Lima (Brazil) will tour Belarus in April, BelTA learnt from head of the Belarusian Guitarists Club Oleg Kopenkov.

    This family duet was a great success when they had a performance in Belarus in 2007. “The amateurs of guitar music were just lucky that the musicians had a few spare days in their schedule during their tour across Europe. It allowed them to give concerts in Brest, Gomel and Minsk. The duet produced a real furor. Those who could not come regretted it a lot. The amateurs of guitar music agreed that Belarus had never seen guitarists of such a high level of performance”

    Belarusian Guitarists Club is organizing another concert which is due to take place in April. The musicians from Latin America will give concerts in Grodno (April 19), Brest (April 20), Gomel (April 21) and Minsk (April 22). The programme of their concert includes classical music and, of course, the music of Latin America.

    Intercultural Latin American-Belarusian centre to be set up in Minsk this year

    The intercultural Latin American-Belarusian centre is expected to be set up in Minsk in 2008, Charge d’Affaires Ad Hoc of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the Republic of Belarus Americo Diaz Nunez told BelTA. On April 10, the Venezuelan diplomat delivered a lecture for students of the Presidential Management Academy in Minsk.

    According to the diplomat, the centre will present the culture of not only Venezuela but other Latin countries. Americo Diaz Nunez noted that at present the integration block ALBA joins Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Other countries of the region intend to join it as well, he added. The creation of this international structure reflects the modern integration processes on the American continent. International centres La casa de ALBA are starting to function in such countries as Spain, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

    The main goal of the Latin American-Belarusian centre is to popularize the national cultures of the Latin-American countries. The centre will include a library of the Belarusian and Venezuelan books. It will conduct various cultural, sports and scientific events. According to the diplomat, it will be the first big Belarusian-Venezuelan cultural project which will help the peoples of the two countries to get familiar with the culture and traditions of both the countries closer.

    Americo Diaz Nunez noted that the project is being carried out within the framework of the all-round Belarusian-Venezuelan dialogue which is actively developing as on the high level so on the level of ministries and governmental departments.

  • Endnote...

    Putin puts the boot in - part 666

    From: The Beatroot
    Ukraine and Georgia’s bid to join Nato, and the anti-missile shield, which the Czech side have now signed up to and the Polish side appears close, are bringing out the beast in Vladimir Putin, as his days as president near an end.

    According to the Russian daily Kommiersant, last Friday in Bucharest, President Putin said that if Ukraine and Georgia ever do become full Nato members then Russia would have every right to take back part of Ukraine, the Crimea and the Georgian breakaway states of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia!

    If the German and French side were having doubts about accepting Ukraine and Georgia into the first stage of Nato membership, the Membership Action Plan - and Paris and Berlin were - then that must have settled it. Both the ex-Soviet countries were told by Nato leaders that yes, they would be asked to join the North Atlantic alliance, but not now. Not yet.

    Game and set to Putin.

    Unfortunately, Nato also endorsed the US plan for an anti-missile system in Central Europe.

    Game and second set to George W. Bush.

    Today, in a meeting between deputy foreign minsters of Poland and Russia, Moscow demanded that if Poland should host their portion of the anti-missile system then Russia must have full access to the facility.

    Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, confirmed this demand.

    ‘Our constant presence at those sites is of key importance to us, so that we know at every second that the radar is not penetrating our territory and interception rockets do not pose a threat to us. Lavrov was quoted as saying in the Kremlin’s Komsomolskaya Pravda’ newspaper.

    Not surprisingly, the Polish side said ‘No’.

    ‘Certainly, there is no way that Russians should be granted the right to be stationed in Poland. That belongs in the past and will never come back,’ said Polish deputy foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski.

    It’s hard to know how much of this is hard-ball bluff and how much of it Russia expects to be taken seriously. Demanding constant access to a facility in Poland surly must come under the slightly daft bluff. But what about Moscow’s threat to break up Ukraine ?

    That one is a little more complicated as a majority of Ukrainians don’t want to be in Nato. Around half of Ukrainians don’t speak Ukrainian as a first language, but Russian. How unified a nation is Ukraine in the first place?

    Whatever - if Moscow thinks that these kind of antics, in the fag end of Putin’s presidency, and on the cusp of his new job as prime minister, will make the anti-missile shield less popular in Poland then…well, they are wrong. They are actually helping Warsaw get more dollars out of Washington to beef up its armed forces in return for babysitting Bush’s anti-missile shield.