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Sunday, May 25, 2008

CIS leaders meet in Minsk, Energy issues, UNCTAD, Moldova, Russia, Timoshenko, Polish scandal, Alehno out, Bilan wins, Opposition, Culture and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #310

    CIS should contribute to achieving multipolar world, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting with the heads of the delegations participating in the session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government.
    The Commonwealth of Independent States should make its contribution to achieving a multipolar world, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at a meeting with the heads of the delegations taking part in the session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government in Minsk.

    “The negative trends that have emerged both in the world and in the Commonwealth, show that the steps that we need to take towards each other have been long overdue,” the Head of State said.

    As for Belarus’ position, it has remained stable and predictable, aimed at developing mutually beneficial cooperation in order to improve the well-being of our nations, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Belarus’ President urges to develop project on Western China – Russia – Europe transit corridor

    Trade and economic cooperation is the core of interaction between the CIS member states. The Belarusian head of state noted that “it is high time we intensified the joint work in transport and transit areas. This year, which is declared the year of transport in the CIS, we need to reap tangible results.”

    Alexander Lukashenko believes that it is important to penetrate into local transport and logistics systems. The Belarusian President also urged to develop a project on the transit corridor “Western China – Russia –Europe”.

    Russia plays a special role in intensifying the activity of the CIS and is a natural locomotive of integration. According to Alexander Lukashenko, the position of Russia with its human, territorial, resource and economic potential is important for implementation of many tasks and projects aimed at promoting economic growth of our countries, improving the living standards of our people. For example, the long-protracted issue is the completion of the formation of the CIS free trade zone. This is a key issue of economic development: “we need to identify single approaches in such areas as transport, power engineering, common market of labour resources, food security.”

    should come up with practical solutions to enhance CIS cooperation

    The goal of the CIS Council of heads of Government is to come up with practical solutions to enhance the cooperation within the CIS. The Belarusian head of state underlined that “we are expected to take practical steps to expand the cooperation within the CIS, to come up with new efficient ways to implement all our plans”. According to Alexander Lukashenko, it chimes with the expectations of our peoples who want the CIS to step up, rather than to break down.

    Meeting with the Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin
    “If we are able to hear each other, willing to find solutions to difficult issues, ready to turn words into practical actions, the CIS will get a second wind, a real additional impulse for the further development”, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President of Belarus expressed hope that “this session of the CIS heads of Government and the meeting will be held in a businesslike and constructive atmosphere, will contribute to a considerable improvement of multilateral cooperation”. The Belarusian President underlined that the main trends of the interaction are already defined in the CIS further development concept that was approved by the CIS heads of state half a year ago.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, “today, when the reformation process of the CIS is at its climax, it is important that the first objective and probably critical assessment should be given to the work that we have done”. We are united not only by the common past, but also by new joint projects that are being successfully implemented, the President of Belarus noted. According to him, history confirms that together we always achieved greater and more impressive results.

    President urges to increase energy transportation in CIS

    Increasing transportation of energy resources is an important way of mutually beneficial utilization of the CIS transit potential. Alexander Lukashenko said, “Belarus respects national interests of the countries-exporters of energy resources. However, it would make economic sense to organize joint extraction, processing and supply to foreign markets of gas, oil and electricity”.

    “We are ready to discuss all projects that would not drive a wedge between the neighbours but will strengthen our common energy security,” Alexander Lukashenko said. According to him, adequate conditions need to be created to consider these issues on a multilateral basis next year, which is expected to be declared the year of energy in the CIS.

    Time has come to take more serious decisions concerning integration in the Commonwealth of Independent States, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on May 23 at a meeting with Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin.

    The President of Belarus stressed, there are quite many problems the heads of government of the CIS states will have to resolve. “It is good that their decision follows the instructions issued by the heads of state when you were the President of Russia,” Alexander Lukashenko told Vladimir Putin.

    “It is no secret that a lot depends on Russia’s views. I am glad to see a very productive environment at the session of the Heads of Government Council,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the Belarusian head of state, the most pressing issues are concentrated in transport, power engineering and food security.

    “We have an opportunity to discuss and work out all the existing issues. Though it is not likely that our countries have major problems because our agencies cooperate effectively,” said the President.

    Chisinau to host next session of CIS Heads of Government Council in late October

    The next session of the CIS Heads of Government Council will take place in Chisinau in late October, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told media summing up results of the session of the CIS Heads of Government Council held in Minsk on May 23.

    In his words, according to Sergei Sidorsky the session tabled 20 issues. Virtually all of them touched upon economic cooperation of the CIS states. In particular, prospects of cooperation in transport and energy industries were considered.

    Special attention was paid to the progress in fulfilling instructions issued by the CIS Heads of State Council on October 5, 2007 and the CIS Heads of Government Council on November 22, 2007 in order to work out a draft CIS Economic Development Strategy, proposals for coordinated transport policy and the preparation of joint measures aimed at increasing food security of the CIS member-states.

    The session also tabled a draft convention on borderline cooperation. It is one of the legal acts meant to form the legal environment for borderline cooperation of the CIS states.

    Apart from that, the prime ministers discussed a draft plan of actions aimed at preparing the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War Victory, a convention on legal status of labour migrants and their families in the CIS states and other issues.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarusian Prime Minister favours XXI century approach to energy problems

    From: BelTA
    The energy problems in the CIS should be approached using the views of the 21st century, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky told reporters after a session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government in Minsk on May 23.

    According to him, we should use not only traditional oil and gas but alternative and renewable energy sources as well.

    Sergei Sidorsky noted that in the CIS the next year was announced as the Year of Energy. The energy problem is too important for an every CIS country. “Herein we speak not only about those energy sources which are traditional for our states but also about the technologies which can replace them,” the Belarusian Prime Minister noted. According to him, the Commonwealth “should set up the programme which will include the corresponding section”.

    The Head of the Belarusian Government noted that for the recent five years Belarus has increased the production volume and GDP by 8-10% a year without expansion of consumption of fuel and power resources. The GDP power intensity is reduced by 7-8% annually. The Belarusian experience will be useful for other CIS member states as well, the Belarusian Prime Minister noted.

    CIS states should coordinate food security issues

    CIS states should coordinate issues relating to food security.

    Sidorsky noted that the CIS will have to work out joint measures to resolve this complicated issue. Today there are external levers, which push CIS states towards taking domestic decisions and raising prices for imported and exported products, said Sergei Sidorsky. In particular, it is applicable to Russia and Kazakhstan, which are major grain suppliers in the CIS and the world. “Undoubtedly we should coordinate food security issues,” stressed the Prime Minister of Belarus.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, a relevant working party has been set up to prepare a document to address these issues. The document will be presented for consideration of the heads of state in November 2008.

    Draft strategy of CIS economic development to be introduced before heads of CIS member states in November

    The draft strategy of the CIS economic development for the period till 2020 will be introduced before the heads of the CIS member states in November, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky told reporters.

    “Today we considered approaches and the structure of the strategy,” Sergei Sidorsky noted. During the session the Belarusian side put forward a proposal that deputy ministers of the CIS countries take an active part in development of the strategy in some issues.

    “We should make a good document, so we should work actively,” the Belarusian Prime Minister highlighted.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, the cooperation in the transport area and also the issues concerning the food security of the CIS member states should become the key issues of the strategy.

    The development of the CIS economic development strategy should be completed soon. According to the Prime Minister, the optimisation of CIS branch-wise bodies, including the abolition of formal bodies and unification of bodies with similar functions, will allow creating an effective CIS structure.

    “Without forming a common interstate innovative space and a high-tech market along with active use of applied scientific researches we will not be able to secure fast economic growth and create an effective competitive economy of the Commonwealth,” he stressed.

    Sergei Sidorsky also believes it is important to define prospects of developing bilateral trade and economic relations soon, to work out pinpointed mutually beneficial projects and assist with their implementation. He underscored the preparation and accomplishment of projects in industry, transport and power engineering.

    Apart from that, according to Sergei Sidorsky, as the innovations sphere in the CIS states continues developing, efforts aimed at protecting intellectual property grow more and more important.

    The Prime Minister of Belarus expressed confidence that decisions to be taken by the Heads of Government Council will contribute to strengthening trade and economic relations between countries, will lay the foundation for further actions in a wide range of cooperation avenues.

    According to the official, Belarus believes that expanding cooperation within the CIS is a foreign policy and foreign trade priority. “The Commonwealth plays a significant role in reinforcing cooperation of our sovereign states in various areas, however, economic sphere remains the main direction of realising our national interests,” said Sergei Sidorsky. He also remarked a better competitive ability of economies of CIS states, more active investment efforts, export increase and diversification, the desire to follow the innovative development path will become the foundation for a sustainable economic growth of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

    Free trade regime will speed up economic integration, Sergei Sidorsky says

    The creation of the large-scale free trade regime in CIS should form the basis for closer integration of the national economics of CIS countries. Last year all CIS countries increased foreign trade. In 2007, the growth of mutual trade in goods in the CIS surpassed the growth of trade with other countries. “As a result, we had an increase in the share of mutual trade in the aggregate trade of the CIS countries”, Sergei Sidorsky said.

    The CIS member states need to use more actively the possibilities for mutual investing, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky noted at a session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government in Minsk on May 23.

    According to him, these possibilities are not used to the full. “The economies of our countries were once part of the single economic complex and therfore they are complementary,” Sergei Sidorsky noted.

    The Prime Minister noted that in 2007 the economic situation in the CIS was quite favourable. In the Commonwealth the GDP increased by 9% on average, the production output by 7%, investments in the fixed capital by more than 20%, retail sales by 16-18%.

    The high economic growth allowed the CIS countries to increase real wages, incomes and savings of the population.

    At the same time, the economic growth in practically all the CIS countries was accompanied by inflation growth. In 2007 a number of the CIS countries recorded a seven-year record high inflation. According to Sergei Sidorsky, the prices for foodstuffs increased significantly on the heels of the increase in the world prices for foodstuffs, reduction of their import and insufficient volume of their output.

    UNCTAD experts preparing review of Belarus investment policy

    From: BelTA
    Experts of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development are completing collecting data about the state of Belarus’ investment climate, Massimo Meloni, expert of the UNCTAD investment policy reviews department, said during a meeting with representatives of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Minsk on May 22.

    According to the source, the experts will leave Belarus next week. The information they have will be used to prepare a review of Belarus’ investment policy.

    In the review special attention will be paid to Belarus’ legal and institutional frameworks of the investment climate, said the expert. Special attention will also be paid to cooperation between transnational corporations and small companies in Belarus.

    The expert explained, UNCTAD is interested in the conditions created to attract foreign direct investments. The review will help defining borders of the policy, attracting foreign investments in line with goals set by the government and gaining maximum profits from it.

    As part of the review preparation UNCTAD plans to hold a national seminar in Belarus involving Belarusian government executives as well as domestic and foreign investors. The final variant of the review will be represented in Geneva in presence of representatives of the Belarusian government.

    UNCTAD: better business terms in Belarus

    Experts of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), who had been invited to Minsk by the Belarusian government, noted that Belarus’ business environment is improving, said Massimo Meloni, expert of the UNCTAD investment policy reviews department, during a meeting with representatives of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Minsk on May 22.

    “We see a determined advance towards improving business terms in various sectors of Belarus’ economy,” said the expert. “The country has certain opportunities to go ahead along the way, but the fact that the major avenues have been defined is most important”.

    Massimo Meloni mentioned a large number of recent legislative changes in Belarus. He pointed out privileged taxation terms available to residents of free economic zones and the High-Tech Park. Important preferences have been given to businessmen in small and medium towns as well as those engaged in agribusiness.

    All the changes will be duly assessed in UNCTAD’s “Review of the investment policy in the Republic of Belarus”. The document will contain recommendations meant to help the country define investment policy borders, attract foreign direct investments and make the best profit out of it.

  • Economics...

    Belarus agrees with Moldova on extra supplies of 30,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has signed a contact with Moldova on additional deliveries of 30,000 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables. The document was signed during a visit of a delegation of the Trade Ministry of Belarus and the Belarusian Cooperative Union to Moldova, BelTA learnt from Igor Milidovich, the counselor for trade and economic issues of the Belarusian embassy in Moldova.

    According to him, Belarus intends to purchase fruit and vegetable tins, oil, butylated wines and cognacs.

    The company Belkoopvneshnetorg plans to purchase Moldavian wines. The roundtable in the agro-industrial agency Moldova-vin reached an agreement on supplies of cognacs produced at Barza Alba Plant and of other Moldavian producers.

    The embassy notes that Belarus is ready to double the purchase of Moldavian fruit and vegetables – up to 100-120 thousand tonnes. First of all, the country is interested in the imports of early fruit – cherry, sweet cherry, peaches and grapes. The purchases of grapes will soar from 6-7 thousand up to 60-70 thousand tonnes.

    In Q1 Belarus-Moldova trade up 64%

    In Q1 2008, the trade between Belarus and Moldova hit $71.5 million or up 64% over the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Economy Ministry.

    The Belarusian export to Moldova increased by 62.9% to reach $51.1 million, the import – by 66.7% ($20.4 million). In Q1 2008, the trade surplus was equal to $30.7 million which is $11.6 up from the same period of 2007.

    The increase in Belarusian export was achieved through the supplies of petrochemical products, tractors, trucks, polyethylene, fiber boards, liquefied gas, etc. Among the Moldovan exports to Belarus an increase was registered in the exports of wine, medicine, sunflower-seed oil.

    Belarus, Israel have major potential for cooperation in banking

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Israel have a major potential for cooperation in banking business, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told the Israeli editors office of TV channel RTVI in an interview.

    “I see a great potential for banking industry cooperation. So far there is no Israeli bank in Belarus and no Israeli investor in the banking business. It is a major drawback in our relations, as at present the Belarusian financial industry attracts investors from many countries of Europe, the CIS, China and even Middle East,” said Piotr Prokopovich.

    The official underscored, banking business in Belarus is very profitable: all affiliates of foreign banks in the country display excellent performance. For example, the Belarusian affiliate of Austrian group Raiffeisen has become the most profitable one in Europe. The same is applicable to several Russian banks. “To ensure these ties, we are initiating contacts with the Bank of Israel. Within the framework of these contacts we will discuss joint encouragement of such investments,” noted Piotr Prokopovich.

    In his opinion, tourism is another insufficiently explored avenue of Belarusian-Israeli cooperation both regarding travels of Belarusians to Israel and Belarus’ inclusion into the Israeli tourism business.

    “We are interested in Israeli investments in virtually all areas — industry, agriculture, services, high tech. conditions for that have been created: practically the entire country has become a free economic zone,” said the NBRB head.

    “For us it is important to get the investments now because the Belarusian market is in large demand. Whoever comes later will face serious competition. Belarus has other advantages too: well-educated human resources in all industries, a favourable geographical position in Europe, in short, the opportunities are truly limitless,” added Piotr Prokopovich.

    FEZ output 30.1% up in Q1

    From: BelTA
    In Q1 2008 resident companies of the Free Economic Zones (FEZ) of Belarus reported the output of Br1.047 trillion, up 30.1% over the same period last year, BelTA was told in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    According to the ministry, in January-March the profitability of sold products made up 12%. The revenues increased by 27.2% over the same period last ear, the taxes to the budget and off-budget funds by 30.5%. At the same time the share of underperforming companies is still high: 22.3% of the total number of resident companies.

    In January-March the Free Economic Zones created 1,051 new jobs; the salaries averaged Br838,000.

    In Q1 capital investment of the resident companies amounted to Br93.42 billion. The biggest investments were injected into manufacturing industry (Br79.616 billion). A total of Br5.921 billion was invested in real estate, Br4.996 billion in trade and public catering.

    In January-March 2008, the resident companies of the Free Economic Zones export products worth $278.5 million. Export to the CIS member states accounted for 89.7% of the total exports ($249.9 million), including export to Russia for 79.9% ($222.5 million.)

    Major exports were furniture (18.1%), ready-made and tinned fish (13.1%), plastic packaging (7.2%), sausages and other meat products (5.7%), insulated wire, cable (4.6%).

    In January-March, the resident companies imported $250.7 million worth of goods, including from the CIS $201.,2 million (80.2% of the total imports).

    As of April 1 2008, 264 organisations were registered as resident companies of the Free Economic Zones. 251 of them are active. Most resident companies are registered with the FEZ Brest (27.3% of their total number) and FEZ Minsk (26.5%).

  • From the International Press...

    Heineken buys stake in Belarus brewery

    From: Reuters and BelTA
    Dutch brewer Heineken NV (HEIN.AS: Quote, Profile, Research) is to buy a majority stake in a brewery in Belarus, strengthening its number two position in that market and giving it a platform to grow its Russian brands, it said on Thursday.

    World number three Heineken will invest 6.4 million euros ($10 million) in the share capital of the Rechitsa brewery for a 51 percent stake, the company said in a statement.

    It said the acquisition, to be financed from existing credit facilities, would boost earnings in 2010. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approvals.

    The Rechitsa brewery, which has a production capacity of 525,000 hectoliters, sold 285,000 hectoliters in 2007.

    According to BelTA, Heineken N.V plans to take a 25% share of the Belarusian beer market, the company says on its website.

    At the end of 2007 Heineken N.V. announced the acquisition of the Syabar brewery. Today “Brewery “Syabar” is the second biggest beer producer in Belarus with the market share of 17.1% in January-April (according to the information provided by the Belgospischeprom concern).

    As BelTA has informed earlier, Heineken N.V also has plans to acquire a share in Lidskoye Pivo brewery.

    In 2007, Rechitsapivo accounted for 8.1% of the total beer production in the country, in January-April for 7.4%. In 2007, the company produced more than 2.8 million decaliters. The brewery has a capacity of 5.25 million decaliters a year.

    Iran-Belarus 2nd joint commission wraps up

    From: Tehran Times
    The second Iran-Belarus Industry and Mine Joint Commission concluded on Thursday by signing co-op accords.

    Iran-Belarus Industry and Mines Committee co-chaired by Iran's Minister of Industry and Mines and his Belarus counterpart opened its second meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on May 20.

    Iranian industries and mines minister announced that the sides agreed to help each other boost their economy, cooperating in the fields of power plant construction, the production of agro equipment, extra-heavy mining machinery, micro-electronics, and optics technology.

    Meanwhile, in a bid to facilitate trade and cooperation in manufacturing 2,000 intercity buses both sides agreed on accepting one another’s national standards.

    In the meet, Ali-Akbar Mehrabian conveyed a message from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Mehrabian visited Belarus at the invitation of Belarusian Minister of Industry Anatoliy Ruteskiy.

    The Iranian and Belarus officials also discussed implementation of the agreements signed in the first Iran-Belarus Industry and Mines Committee held in Tehran.

    This meeting was held for two days from May 20-22

    Belarus: ‘We are reclaiming our history as a land of religious freedom’

    From: Christian Today
    Belarus has been renowned [for its] freedom of conscience for centuries. This is why
    religious freedom, which the current state authorities have been trying to restrict for the past decade, remains a key concern for Belarusian citizens.

    In the largest campaign of its kind since current President Aleksandr Lukashenko came to power in 1994, between April 2007 and February 2008 over 50,000 people signed a petition asking the Constitutional Court and other state organs to change the restrictive 2002 Religion Law.

    Moreover, according to those who collected signatures, every second person approached agreed to support the appeal. Petitioners signed even though the state arrested campaign activists and confiscated campaign material.

    Campaigners against the Religion Law affirm that the rights to life, free speech and freedom of belief are inalienable, "because we have them from birth, they are given to us by God and not the government. Since the government does not give us these rights, they do not have the right to take them away."

    The Law's opponents also stress that they are defending the rights of all Belarusian citizens, as it "violates the rights of all people, even atheists."

    Even though it is more than five years since the Law came into force in 2002, Belarusian Christians have not stopped seeking its review. When the Law was under consideration, there were protest demonstrations and numerous appeals against its adoption due to the numerous problems it was bound to create in the religious sphere.

    Then, once the Law was adopted, the Baptist Union and the Full Gospel Association did not re-register until the very last moment, insisting upon amendments to some of its more odious provisions. While this protest did not succeed, it at least became possible in practice to re-register a number of churches unable to manage the minimum 20 founders. The recent petition marks a new stage in the battle to change the Law.

    In multi-confessional Belarus - where Christmas and Easter are officially celebrated twice, according to both Eastern and Western Christian calendars - moves to restrict religious freedom and allot the Orthodox Church the de facto status of state church are inevitably causing resentment. Most people find such a policy perplexing, as they are accustomed to believing that they belong to a multi-confessional nation.
    Story Continues...

    Russia may trim gas price, lend money to Belarus

    From: Reuters
    Russia could keep low gas prices for Belarus and lend low interest money if the former Soviet neighbour agrees to share more assets with Russian investors, a Russian government source said late on Thursday.

    Gas pricing talks between Moscow and Minsk are closely watched in Europe, which gets a quater of its gas from Russia. A fifth of Russian supplies goes in transit via Belarus and one dispute has led to export disruptions a few years ago.

    The issue is likely to be discussed on Friday, when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin travels to Minsk to take part in a prime ministers meeting of the former Soviet countries.

    Belarus, which enjoys the lowest price for Russian gas among foreign customers, is worried that the price may go up faster than expected following a further surge in oil prices, which hit another record over $135 per barrel this week.

    "We understand that they are worried by oil price growth. We in Russia are worried too. But this is global trend and we must get ready for it," the source said.

    After a gas pricing dispute with Russia in 2006, Belarus agreed with gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) it will gradually switch to market prices by 2011, which would equal European prices minus transportation costs and taxes.

    Russia plans to apply the same formula on its own territory from the same year, although some government officials have said the recent jump in global prices made the move impossible as it would badly hurt Russian industry.

    European gas prices track refined oil products prices with a lag of six to nine months.

    Russia is selling gas to Belarus at $128 per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter of 2008, up from $119 in the first quarter. Gazprom says it sells gas in Europe at around $400.

    Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly criticised Moscow for steep gas price rises from below $50 in 2006 as it pushed inflation up and hurt economic growth.


    Last year, Russia agreed to lend Belarus $1.5 billion for 15 years at 0.75 percent over Libor to compensate for the gas price rise and Minsk said it wanted to borrow another $2 billion.

    The source said Russia may disburse more money if Minsk agreed on certain conditions.

    "It is important for us that the credit serves a goal of our economic integration."

    "Let's take trucks and agricultural engineering as an example. Both Russia and Belarus have giant plants in these sectors and each of us is now trying to separately enter global markets," said the source, who requested anonymity.

    "If we join our efforts, we will have good chances to become a key player on the global market."

    Belarus wants to privatise a number of state firms including large truck producer, Minsk automobile plant. Russian truck producer Kamaz (KMAZ.MM: Quote, Profile, Research) and aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska have expressed interest in the plant.

    Russian firms also want to control Belarussian petrocheminal and refining plants.

    Belarus' Belinvestbank assigned 'E+' BFSR; outlook stable - Moody's

    From: Viasna
    Moody's Investors Service said it has assigned its 'E+' bank financial strength rating (BFSR) to Belinvestbank, citing he bank's relatively strong market position as the fourth-largest bank in Belarus by assets, capital and retail deposits, as well as acceptable asset quality to date.

    The outlook is stable.

    Moody's (nyse: MCO - news - people ) also assigned its 'Ba2' long-term and 'Not Prime' short-term local currency deposit ratings, and 'B2' long-term and 'not prime' short-term foreign currency deposit ratings to the bank.

    The local currency deposit ratings reflect the assessment of a very high probability of systemic support in the event of a stress situation, which is based on the bank's 81.6 percent direct ownership by the Belarus government, Moody's said.

    The BFSR is constrained by the bank's modest profitability, capital adequacy and efficiency, as well as fairly weak corporate governance due to the high level of government interference in the bank's business, the rating agency said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Teachers protest against exclusion of ‘artistic culture of the world’ subject from curriculum

    From: Viasna
    The teachers of the ‘artistic culture of the world’ subject from more than 20 cities of Belarus have signed an open letter to the national authorities and the Belarusian exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, asking to leave their subject in the school curriculum.
    ‘The idea to reduce the number of school subjects at the expense of the subjects belonging to the ‘fine arts’ section, including the subject ‘national and foreign artistic culture’ sounds nonsense against the background of the president’s words about the spiritual health of the population in his speech to the parliament and the people. This subject is a foundation stone in the spiritual upbringing of our children,’ runs the letter.

    By the way: at present the subject ‘national and foreign artistic culture’ is taught in secondary schools an hour a week for three years i Belarus, whereas in the neighboring Russia it is taught six years.

    Yury Istomin fined for concert of Polish band

    Yury Istomin, chairman of Hrodna city branch of the United Civil Party, was fined 1 050 000 rubles (about 493 US dollars) for organization of the concert of the Polish band Transkapela in the UCP office on 13 May.

    Istomin was summonsed to Hrodna city department of the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations (MES) and asked about the concert of Transkapela. Then he was fined for violation of ‘fire security’. The ministry representatives explained their actions by referring to a paper received from the police.

    Mr. Istomin believes that the local authorities try to make MES a punitive organ. Bear in mind that the aforementioned concert of Transkapela was organized with the support of the General Consulate of Poland and was attended by the General Consul.
  • Editor's Note: Should have more...

    Hugo doesn’t want to back his friend

    From: Charter '97
    Interesting information about the range of import and export of Belarus with its main trade partners has been published on the website of the Ministry of Statistics.

    Looking at the numbers «EuroRadio» found out that the extent of our country’s trade with the USA and China greatly decreased in the first quarter of the year. Not a single Arab country is in the top-15 of best partners, regardless of numerous agreements on cooperation. Venezuela is not there either.

    According to the Ministry of Statistics, the bilateral trade between Belarus and the USA halved and totaled only 77.3 million dollars during the first three months of 2008. Trying to explain the reason for such a rapid decrease in turnover, Volha Savelyeva, the chief economist of the department for coordination of foreign trade and creation of a production network abroad of the Ministry of Trade, said only one word: “Belneftekhim.”

    “You see, Belneftekhim and all that…” the specialist said.

    The trade of Belarus with China decreased by 30% and totalled 69.8 million dollars in the first quarter. However, the officer of the Ministry of Trade did not manage to explain this fact to ERB. She also refused to explain why the trade with Brazil increased almost 5-fold and amounted to 108.7 million dollars.

    However, she explained that numerous trade agreements signed with Arab countries and Venezuela had not helped increase the turnover of Belarus with these countries.

    “The fact that the country signed agreements with these countries does not mean immediate increase in the volume of trade with these countries. Agreements are agreements and money is money,” Volha Savelyeva noted.

    Economist Leanid Zlotnikau did not even want to comment on the decrease in trade volume with the USA. He said everything was clear after the sanctions had been imposed. He also said that the trade with China was different – they can buy just one tractor, for example and start producing its “analogues” several months later.

    “What can we supply to China? They have their own machine-building and they produce machines better than Belarusians. We used to be able to supply tractors and trucks to China but now they simply buy one or two samples of tractor and start producing their own trucks later. Chinese are like this! Their chemical industry has also become developed. They also have their own metal production and they export their goods all over the world. Instrument-making, electronics, light industry – we know that China can produce everything. What should we then export?! We export potash fertilizers and China buys the amount it needs. There are some other goods but their volume is not big,” Leanid Zlotnikau said.

    What concerns Venezuela, the economist thinks there are two factors that impede our trade with it – the distance and the low purchasing power of this country.

    “Venezuela? Its gross domestic product is not bigger than the Belarusian one. The country is not that rich and it is far away. Maybe there will be some trade established there. There is an agreement on supplies of TV-sets but our TV-sets are not that good and cheap and TV-sets produced in other countries. There is no reason for the turnover to increase,” the economist thinks.

    According to the economist, we have nothing to offer to Arab states either, especially taking into account the fact that raw materials make up the majority of our exported goods.

    “Speaking about the beginning of the year, 71 per cent of products exported to distant countries were oil products and 7 per cent were potash fertilizers. But what oil products will the Arab Emirates buy from us?” Leanid Zlotnikau wonders.

    The economist advised to consider the success in the trade with Brazil at the end of the year. It will become clear whether it is the result of an occasional delivery or whether it is the result of stable trade relations. He felt pity for Belarusian officials because Lukashenka was making them find homemade products supplies contracts all over the world. He said it was necessary to improve the quality of Belarusian goods and to improve their variety instead of trying to sell something that nobody needed.

    “If there is no private production, if the property belongs to the state, there will be no good results. It does not matter how much you make officials work. Products should be competitive; there should be state investments and companies and transnational corporations that would start producing something here and selling it. It would be another matter. But now…” Leanid Zlotnikau tells.

    Discussion about relations between non-state media, opposition organizations to be held next week

    From: Naveny
    The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and the United Pro-democratic Forces will hold a round-table discussion about relations between the non-state media and the opposition on May 28.

    Participants will hear speeches by lawyer Ihar Rynkevich, who is deputy chairperson of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada,” BAJ Chairperson Zhanna Litvina, and educator and filmmaker Uladzimir Kolas.

    Messrs. Rynkevich and Kolas have recently suggested that Polish-based TV Belarus (BelSat), Radio Racyja, and European Radio for Belarus have advisory councils that would involve prominent Belarusians. The suggestion sparked an intense debate within the opposition camp.

    “We hope to discuss both the problems of journalists working abroad and relations between Belarusian politicians and these media outlets,” Mr. Rynkevich told BelaPAN. He added that his report would focus on the legal problems faced by journalists in both Belarus and Poland.

  • Around the region...

    Increased economic cooperation will lead to better wellbeing of CIS nations, Yulia Timoshenko says

    From: BelTA
    By intensifying the economic cooperation in the CIS countries we will improve the wellbeing of the CIS nations, Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko said at the session of CIS Council of Heads of Government in Minsk on May 23.

    This priority was defined at the session of the CIS Council of Heads of Government in 2007, she noted.

    There is a need to summarize the work, sign the documents and set out the plans on the CIS further development, the Prime Minister of Ukraine said.

    Last year, when Ukraine took the chairmanship in the CIS Council of Heads of Government, a programme of the chairmanship was adopted for the first time. The programme makes the country a driving force helping to achieve the CIS goals.

    Yulia Timoshenko marked a high level of preparatory work for the session of the CIS Council of Heads of Government in Minsk and thanked the President of Belarus for assistance.

    Minsk resolutions will strengthen multilateral cooperation in CIS, Yulia Timoshenko says

    The resolutions of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government in Minsk will contribute to the objective of further strengthening of multilateral cooperation of the CIS member states, Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko said at a session of the council in May 23.

    “Changes have taken place in the legislative and executive powers in Ukraine over the past year. But in foreign policy, especially in the area of the CIS cooperation, we always support the intensification of economic cooperation,” Yulia Timoshenko said. A year ago when Ukraine took the chairmanship in the CIS Council of Heads of Government a programme of the chairmanship was adopted for the first time. “I hope that in the future the programmes of chairmanship in the CIS will become the programmes of the Commonwealth in general,” she said.

    “It is very good that most proposals of Ukraine have been reflected in the CIS development concept and in the plan of main action to implement it. We hope that they will be used in other documents of the Commonwealth,” Yulia Timoshenko said.

    Yulia Timoshenko thanked the participants of the session for the preparedness to develop cooperation in the CIS format. “The issues which are considered today and the resolutions to be taken will help strengthen multilateral cooperation in the CIS, develop the economies of out countries and improve the wellbeing of our citizens,” she said.

    Belarus, Ukraine have many issues to discuss

    Belarus and Ukraine have many important issues to discuss, Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko said at a meeting with head of government of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky.

    Yulia Timoshenko noted that the sides maintain a high-level dialogue on urgent issues of cooperation. For example, First Vice-Premier of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov visited Belarus this year.

    Trade between Belarus and Ukraine is dynamic. In January-March trade was up 98% over the same period last year to $1.2 billion. Belarusian export was up 2.4 times to $757.4 million, import 49.8% to $449.2 million.

    Gazprom says $1 bln deal to buy Kovykta gas field delayed

    From: Ria Novosti
    A deal to buy the Kovykta gas condensate field in East Siberia for around $1 billion has been put off for an indefinite period, a spokesman for Russian energy giant Gazprom said Tuesday.

    The Kovykta deal is part of an agreement signed between Gazprom, Britain's BP, and Russian-British TNK-BP in June 2007. Under the agreement, Gazprom is to buy a 62.8% stake in Rusia Petroleum, the operator of East Siberia's largest gas deposit.

    "There have been different visions of these processes," Stanislav Tsygankov, the head of Gazprom's foreign economic activity department, said. "The ball in now in the court of TNK-BP shareholders."

    The companies initially planned to close the deal within 90 days, but the deadline was repeatedly postponed. Viktor Vekselberg, TNK-BP's executive director, said last December that the deadline for closing the Kovykta deal had been put back for technical reasons.

    The deposit's reserves are estimated at 2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, 2.3 billion cubic meters of helium and 115 million metric tons of gas condensate.

    Belgium clears Gazprom for industrial gas supplies

    In a related story, Russian energy giant Gazprom has received permission from the Belgian authorities to supply natural gas to the European country's major industrial enterprises, the Belgian newspaper De Tijd said on Tuesday.

    Belgium is the third country after Britain and France to grant Gazprom a license to supply natural gas to major industrial consumers, the paper said.

    Belgium has no proven natural gas reserves and is forced to import about 16.4 billion cubic meters of gas for domestic consumption every year.

    Gazprom, with its huge gas reserves, could prove serious competition for Belgium's Distrigas and France's Gaz de France on the Belgian market, the paper said.

    Gazprom supplied 300 million cubic meters of natural gas to Belgium in 2006.

    Russian tycoon nets $10bn

    From: Wealth Bulletin
    Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov will accumulate about $10bn in cash by the end of this week when he sells a 50% stake in KM Invest to financial holding Interros, owned by his former business partner Vladimir Potanin.

    KM Invest manages the joint assets of Prokhorov's investment vehicle Onexim and Potanin's Interros. Both billionaires, who had been involved in months of wrangling over how to divide their assets, reached an agreement on dividing KM-Invest in mid-April, according to Russian business daily Vedomosti.

    KM Invest holds and manages assets worth about $14 billion, including 8% in metals giant Norilsk Nickel, 7.6% in the Polyus gold mining company, 57.8% in Open Investments, 91.1% in Soglasiye insurance company, 100% in diversified media company Prof Media, 25.8% in crude producer Rusia Petroleum, and about 38% in Rosbank.

    Under the deal, Prokhorov will buy 27.5% of shares in Open Investments, 91% of shares in Soglasiye insurance company and 100% of shares in Rosbank managing company from KM Invest, the paper said.

    The parties have not disclosed the sums involved in the deals. However, an Onexim representative said Prokhorov will pay tax of $700 million for the sale of shares in KM Invest. Prokhorov directly owns KM Invest's stock and will have to pay 13% income tax.

    Prokhorov sold 25% in Norilsk Nickel to UC Rusal less than a month ago and received $5bn in addition to 11% in Rusal.

    No love for NATO in Ukraine's pro-Russian enclave

    From: Reuters
    Ukraine's pro-Western leaders hope to join NATO but the people of this Black Sea port, where Russian warships are moored at the quayside, want no part of it.

    "I just can't imagine that the boots of a NATO soldier may tread on this sacred land one day," said Vladimir, an 82-year-old pensioner, as he walked along the quay.

    "We want no NATO here," he said, his World War Two medals jangling on his chest. "This would mean to betray Russia."

    Sevastopol is in Ukraine but a majority of its residents are ethnic Russians and most regard it as a Russian town -- at least in terms of history, culture and emotion.

    That sentiment is reinforced by the presence here of the Russian navy's Black Sea fleet, and the fact that until 1954 the Crimea region that includes Sevastopol was part of Russia.

    "Imagine a NATO base in Sevastopol!" Vladimir Putin, then Russian president, said with an incredulous tone earlier this year after talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

    Ukraine says that cannot happen because its constitution bars the presence on its territory of any foreign bases other than the Russian Black Sea fleet.

    At a summit in Bucharest in April, NATO states agreed that Ukraine and Georgia could eventually join the Western military alliance, though they did not give a timetable.

    That angered Russia, which sees further NATO enlargement as a threat to its security and a new encroachment into its traditional sphere of influence.

    This month Sevastopol was again at the focus of the tension.

    Ukraine barred influential Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov from entering the country after a speech in the port in which he said Russia should take it back from Ukraine. Moscow responded by blocking a deputy Ukrainian minister from entering Russia.


    Ukrainian flags fly over public buildings and official signs are in Ukrainian language.

    But these are swamped by a sea of Russian tricolor flags flying from the Black Sea fleet headquarters, by white-and-blue St Andrew's flags flying from Russian warships and by the Soviet military pennants sold in local shops.

    Blue tents scattered around the town collect signatures for a referendum to have the Russian fleet kept here permanently. Moscow's $93-million-a-year lease runs out in 2017.

    "We won't give up our Sevastopol!" thousands of people chanted as they listened to Luzhkov address a rally to mark the 225th anniversary of the creation of the Black Sea fleet.

    The opposition in Sevastopol -- as well as large swathes of Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and south -- to NATO membership is more than a domestic problem for Yushchenko.

    Polls show only a third of Ukraine's population favors joining the alliance, and that split makes some NATO member states in Europe skeptical about bringing in Ukraine.

    The Crimean peninsula was a part of the Russian republic of the Soviet Union until 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed it over to the Ukrainian republic as a "token of brotherly love".

    That mattered little when both republics were part of the Soviet Union, but when Ukraine gained independence in 1991 it became a ticking timebomb.

    Through the 1990s, as the new Ukrainian state established its credentials, Crimea was gripped by periodic outbursts of pro-Russian sentiment but has since been generally calm.

    War veteran Vladimir, who refused to give his family name, said he remembered the contribution the United States made during World War Two, supplying tinned meat and vehicles to the Soviet war effort.

    "Yes, they were good allies during that war," he said. "But today they have turned their bayonets against us."

    Russia wins 2008 Eurovision Song Contest beating Ukraine, Greece

    From: Canadian Press
    Dima Bilan has brought Russia its first Eurovision song title with a glitzy performance that included a famous ice skater.

    Bilan beat Ukraine's Ani Lorak and Greece's Kalomira with an R&B ballad "Believe" before thousands of flag-waving fans of Europe's most glamorous pop song festival.

    The Russian singer was joined on the stage by Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton and famous Russian Olympic skater Yevgeny Plyushchenko, who pirouetted on artificial ice to the tune.

    Bilan has won the first-ever title for Russia in the competition, which has recently been dominated by Eastern European countries because of so-called bloc-voting among ex-Soviet republics and former Yugoslav states.

    This year's competition was held in Belgrade, Serbia. Serbian songstress Marija Serifovic won last year's title with her ballad "Molitva" or "Prayer."

    Bilan's appearance at the finals, which opened late Saturday at the Belgrade Arena hall, was his second in just two years. In 2006, he won second place.

    Bilan had been tipped as the favourite going in, along with Ukraine and Sweden.

    The Russian won 272 points from viewers from 43 countries who picked the winner by phone calls and text messages.

    Ukraine's Lorak was second with 230 points, followed by Greece's Kalomira with 218.

    The glitzy event was launched by Serifovic. Other guest stars include Bosnian ethno musician Goran Bregovic and Serbia's and L.A. Lakers' former NBA star, Vlade Divac.

    Though criticized by many as a show of kitsch and an extravaganza, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Eurosong, is revered by its many followers. They often travel across the continent to support their favourite singers.

    About 15,000 guests are believed to have arrived in Belgrade for the event, crowding the Serbian capital for the first time in years.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Editorial: Not Just the Facts

    From: NWE.PL
    There is, I will swear on the bible, no national or political prejudice involved, but I must confess to a growing distaste for many things Gazeta Wyborcza.

    I’ve been reading Gazeta pretty much since I came to Poland 10 years ago, and have understood its language fully for about five. So it’s not that I’m not attracted to it. And we’re not talking about just any paper – Wyborcza was established on the back of the Roundtable Talks that eased out communism and was a major force in re-establishing Poland’s civic consciousness in the early 90s. But I’m increasingly convinced it has made a bad choice between the two ideas that founded it – delivering a partisan political message and supporting free speech.

    A paper like Gazeta should be a centre for free, unbiased, responsible journalism as the country develops – and it is becoming the exact opposite.

    Reporters at the paper are quite frank about its motives over the past two years.

    “It was decided after the last election that it was simply vital to get the Kaczynskis out of government,” a senior member of the paper’s editorial staff told me late last year.

    “The paper’s leaders believed that PiS’s impact in the long term would be so negative for Poland, for our development as a democracy, that removing them was of overarching importance. So journalists were told to focus on writing stories that attacked the Kaczynskis.”

    Varying degrees of this approach clearly exist across the western world. Newspapers are never without a political bent. Wyborcza’s competitors, with the possible exception of the tabloids, all have their agendas.

    But what singles out good newspapers and good journalism is that the news pages stick as much as they can to a balanced presentation of the facts of a story. Not to presenting particular facts to back up an assumption.

    This leads us to a deeper problem. The Polish state is in the mess it is largely because, after two decades of democracy, politics are so ruthlessly partisan. Throughout the state sector, the new government has replaced people, yet again, on the basis of their political allegiances and contacts.

    Unbiased journalism should be here to fight that. To find objective criteria and judge our politicians by it. You can’t expect readers to believe that you’re criticising or praising politician X for objective reasons when they know that you just want to lay into him for political ones.

    And yet. The Warsaw local supplement Gazeta Stoleczna has a team of young journalists who generally go after hard news and only hard news. They ask: is there a delay with opening the new airport? What is the problem? What were the grounds for official X making decision Y? Did the council fail to consult locals? Are bus ticket prices about to rise? They just want the facts, and they just want them first.

    Now isn’t that a good idea?

    Can Polish National Remembrance Institute prove Walesa’s collaboration with Communist secret service?

    From: Axis Globe
    A book to be published by historians from the of Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) attempts to prove that former Polish president Lech Walesa collaborated with the Communist secret services in the 1970s, Polish Radio reports.

    The authors of the book, historians Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, want to show beyond doubt that the legendary Solidarity leader and former Polish President collaborated with the Communist Security Service (SB) under the nickname ‘Bolek’ from 1970 to 1976, as reported by RNF FM radio. Head of the Institute of National Remembrance, Janusz Kurtyka has revealed that the publication to be released within several weeks, will present all of the available documentation regarding Lech Walesa’a alleged collaboration with Communists, writes Dziennik daily. The former president has commented on the document being released on the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize as ‘hardly a coincidence’.

    According to the radio, after Walesa stopped working for the Communist secret service, SB, in 1976, he was loyal to his colleagues from the anticommunist opposition, although the authorities would keep reminding him of his previous commitments as agent ‘Bolek’. The book will also present copies of some fake documents against Walesa that the SB forged.

    In an interview with the TVN24 news channel, Walesa said that he has evidence of the undercover officer's real identity, and that he knows the agent personally. „I wasn’t Bolek’, Lech Walesa has said many times and has often denied that he had signed any cooperation agreements with the Communists, radio marks.

    Walesa said that he does not want to reveal the officer's identity himself, but would like the authors of the IPN document to reveal it themselves. He added, however, that he will give the name of the SB officer if the authors fail to do so.

    Attacks on the rise against Poles in UK

    From: The News
    As more and more Brits are losing out in competition with well-qualified and cheap labour from Poland, the number of hate-crimes against Poles is growing.

    Michal Kasztelan, a 28-year-old Pole currently working as a carpenter in Edinburgh, was beaten up because of his nationality. The three men who started kicking him kept screaming that he was taking their jobs away and calling him names such as "You f***ing Polish c**t!," reports Rzeczpospolita daily.

    "Poles are being assaulted more and more frequently, primarily in small towns and in the countryside,” says Wiktor Moszczynski from the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, and author of the "Hate-Crimes against Poles in UK in 2007" report.

    The document describes 50 instances of assault on Poles based on reports from local media.

    According to the London Metropolitan police force, 48 hate-crimes against Poles were committed between December 2006 and November 2007, but this figure may actually be significantly higher, since many victims do not report attacks, adds Moszczynski.

    "We don't mind Poles' presence,” says Simon Darby, spokesman for the far-right British National Party (BNP), quoted by Rzeczpospolita. "But when someone loses their job because the employer prefers to hire a Pole who is ready to work for much less, it is easy to understand the frustration. What would be the reaction in Poland, if all of a sudden 2 million people flooded the Polish job market," remarked Darby.

    "If it turns out that we are indeed talking about hate crimes, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have no other option but to take action", said Krzysztof Lisek, head of the Parliamentary Commission for Foreign Affairs of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party.

    Another Fine Riot

    Poland’s soccer season again ended with fans rioting this week, as Legia Warsaw and Wisla Krak?w fans demolished a chunk of Belchat?w’s stadium quarter of an hour from the end of the Polish cup final.

    The game ended in a dour 0-0 draw, with Legia winning on penalties. But it was the dozens of fans involved in the fighting live on TV that grabbed the headlines.

    “The hooligans who hold our state by the scruff of the neck,” Gazeta Wyborcza columnist Rafal Stec wrote on Thursday.

    Only three fans were arrested, astounding commentators around the country who had watched the scenes on TVN.

    “This is an enormous embarrassment for Poland,” national coach Leo Beenhakker told Wyborcza. “If I organised the national team as badly as the organisers did this game, I’d be out of a job.”

    With Euro 2008 just three weeks away, the scenes were an echo of the handful of riots in the run-up to Poland’s appearance at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The trouble then fed fears that the Poles would be a handful for police at the tournament, although finally there was little trouble.

    Legia, who faced UEFA sanctions earlier this year for a riot by fans in Vilnius, Lithuania, have said they will not apply for tickets for UEFA Cup games next season to be allocated to fans.

  • Sport...

    Ekaterina Kolodyazhnaya and Yan Xiaoshan Cause Opening Round Upsets

    From: ITTF
    Russia’s seventeen year old Ekaterina Kolodyazhnaya and Yan Xiaoshan of Poland, a player with no current world ranking, were the two ladies to cause the major surprises in the opening round of the Women’s Singles event at the Stag Belarus Open in Minsk on Saturday 24th May 2008.

    Both successful in the qualification group stage of proceedings, they continued their good form in the main event.

    In round one Ekaterina Kolodyaznhaya beat Poland’s Xu Jie, the number five seed whilst Yan Xiaoshan overcame Hu Melek, the number four seed.

    Ekaterina Kolodyazhnaya currently stands at no 250 on the ITTF Women’s World Rankings whilst Xu Jie is at no. 163; Hu Melek is ranked no. 68.

    Safe Journeys
    However, for the remaining seeded players it was a safe page through to the quarter-final stage.

    Top seed, Poland’s Li Qian beat Russia’s Polina Mikhaylova in a battle between two defenders whilst second seed, Viktoria Pavlovich of Belarus overcame Carla Nouwen of the Netherlands.

    Success for Sister
    Success for Viktoria Pavlovich and also success for twin sister, Veronika, seeded three; she defeated Turkey’s Ildiz Meral Ali in four straight games.

    Meanwhile, sixth seed, Russia’s Maria Zelenova used her defensive skills to good effect to defeat Poland’s Natalia Bak whilst the latter’s compatriot, Kinga Stefanska, seeded seven, defeated the Czech Republic’s Hana Bartosova in five games.

    Linda Creemers
    The one remaining seed, Linda Creemers of the Netherlands also experienced few problems in the opening round of the Women’s Singles event. She overcame Russia’s Margarita Fetukhina in four straight games.

    At the quarter-final stage Li Qian plays Kinga Stefanska, Ekaterina Kolodyazhnaya confronts Yan Xiaoshan, Veronika Pavlovich meets Maria Zelenova and Viktoria Pavlovich is in opposition to Linda Creemers.

    Agent: Hleb Has Left Arsenal

    The Belarus international has been heavily linked with a move away from the Emirates, having earned strong interest from Internazionale, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

    And agent Niki Spilevski revealed that the 27-year-old will leave North London this summer, following crunch talks with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.

    “I can officially confirm that a short time ago Alexander decided that he will leave Arsenal and join another club,” he said.

    “Of course Arsenal and Arsene wanted him to stay but they have accepted the player’s choice.”


    Hleb moved to Arsenal for ?11.2 million from Bundesliga outfit VfB Stuttgart in 2005, and has since established himself alongside Cesc Fabregas as one of the team’s key creative outlets.

    But the midfielder has grown weary of the hustle-and-bustle of London, and Spilevski confirmed that his client seeks a fresh challenge.

    “That is his choice,” he said. “He has understood that the right time has come for him to make a change.

    “Alex has spent three good seasons at Arsenal and he wasn’t sure he could maintain the same level that he has been showing if he stayed.

    “It’s also true that he felt uncomfortable off the field. Alexander wants a change of scene. That’s had a large part to play in his decision.

    “Alex informed the club of his desire to move to another club.”


    Wenger was livid upon learning that Hleb held talks with Inter officials before the end of the season, and threatened to banish the player to the reserves.

    The Frenchman feared Hleb would enact article 17, a FIFA rule that allows players to buy out their own contract if they have played in a particular country for a certain amount of time.

    But Spilevski denied that his client would exploit the clause, and insisted that Hleb’s future should be sorted during the week.

    “We are not using article 17 of the FIFA rule,” he said. “I can’t tell you anything about where he will be playing yet.

    “Talks are underway, and I don’t have the right to make them public. I think that the issue of his new club will be clarified in the next few days.”

  • Cultural scene...

    Hasta la Vista: Belarus won’t be in Eurovision final

    From: Charter '97
    Click to watch (YouTube)
    Ruslan Alehno, the Belarusian representative in the Second Semi-Final of the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, failed to qualify for the final. So, our country won’t be represented at the prestigious European musical stage.

    10 countries have been qualified for the final: Ukraine, Georgia, Latvia, Sweden, Denmark, Albania, Portugal, Croatia, Iceland, and Turkey.

    Belarus, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Cyprus, Macedonia, and Malta haven’t qualified for the final.

    Ruslan Alehno performed Hasta la Vista song. As experts note, Alehno’s performance wasn’t so good. Four dancing girls, the stage, “decorated” with baubles, the singer climbed on them from time to time, and the fireworks resembling squibs. At the end of the performance a letter R (Ruslan) was formed out of the baubles.

    It’s worthy to note that Georgia’s representative Diana Gurtskaya, qualified for the final, wanted to perform for Belarus, but a special commission chose Ruslan Alehno.

    The winners of the first semi-final are Greece, Romania, Bosnian and Herzegovina, Finland, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Poland, and Norway. Nine singers were chosen by televoting, and one – by jury in the countries, participating in the contest.

    The final was held on 24 May.

  • Endnote...

    Lukashenka to Putin at CIS summit: “Your are no longer my colleague”

    From: Charter '97
    During the meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin which has taken place today during the CIS countries Prime Minister Council, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was no slow to observe that Putin is no longer a president of Russia.

    At the meeting touching upon the meeting of CIS countries Prime Minister Council, Alyaksandr Lukashenka noted that “there are many problems, questions, and they proceed from the tasks the Council of the CIS heads set for heads of governments”.

    “These missions were set by the Prime Minister Council, previously headed by you, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin],” Lukashenka noted.

    As said by the Belarusian president, “constructive discussion is under way. He noted that a good decision was once taken to dedicate each year to addressing one particular global problem within the CIS. This year was declared the year of transport, the next one – the year of energy.

    Lukashenka has noted that at the meeting of CIS countries Prime Ministers issues of food supply security were discussed as well. “It’s a challenge for all of us today,” he believes.

    As believed by Lukashenka, “there are no major problems in Russian-Belarusian relations”. “Now it’s high time to take more serious decisions,” he said.

    Lukashenka expressed gratitude to Putin for his visit. “Thank you for coming, thank you for the meeting. I cannot get used for your not being my colleague any more,” Lukashenka said.

    In his turn, Putin noted that he was pleased to meet with Lukashenka, “to talk about the current problems and look into the future”.

    He has emphasized that today economies of the two states should be competitive, and offered Lukashenka to discuss bilateral relations in such spheres as energy, transport, communications and military cooperation.

    Putin preferred Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Yulia Tymoshenko

    Today a regular the session of the CIS Council of Heads of Governments takes place in Minsk. Russian Prime Minister has only one bilateral meeting on his schedule, a meeting with Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

    It has been informed by members of the Russian delegations taking part in the session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Governments, UNIAN agency reports.

    No other meetings have been agreed upon by the Prime Minister of Russian.

    As we have informed, earlier it was reported that a bilateral meeting of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Vladimir Putin was to take place. Prime Ministers of other countries applied for a meeting with him as well.

    Lukashenka wants to recover and sell other’s energy resources

    Addressing the session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Governments on May 23, the Belarusian leader argued against liquidation of the CIS: “Our nations demand active moves from us, and not a liquidation of the CIS. It depends on our ability to find understanding, whether the CIS will have a second breath”.

    Russia plays a special role in that, Lukashenka said. “It has become a natural locomotive of integration. Realization of many tasks and projects depends aimed at strengthening economies of our countries, increase of living standards of our common people depend principally on the position of Russia with its human, territorial, economical potential and resources”.

    Lukashenka has also noted that Belarus treats national interests of countries exporting energy resources with respect, “but organizing joint activities on recovering, processing, export of gas, oil and electrical power would be highly reasonable. And we are open to discuss all projects which won’t drive a wedge between neighbours, but would underpin common energy security”.

    Increasing transportation of energy resources is an important way of mutually beneficial utilization of the CIS transit potential, A. Lukashenka said. This observation could have been an answer to the statement of Russian Prime Minister Putin about a necessity to realize the project of the oil pipeline BTS-2 bypassing Belarus.

    Prime Ministers of 8 countries have arrived to Minsk to take part in the session of the CIS Council of Heads of Governments (Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan). Three countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) are represented by Vice Prime Ministers.