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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, June 15, 2008

NBRB: Belarus’ economy stable, Festival of National Cultures, Higher social pensions, EU, Gomselmash, Russia, Polish scandal, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #316

    NBRB: no direct effect of global financial instability on Belarus’ economy

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko and Dmitry Medvedev at the informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg last week
    In 2007 the direct influence of the instability of global financial markets on Belarus’ economy was limited, says an analytic review “Financial stability in the Republic of Belarus in 2007” presented by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB).

    Member of the NBRB Board of Directors, Head of the Central Banking Supervision Department Sergei Dubkov told BelTA, due to the low integration of Belarus’ financing into the global financial system the last year’s downturn on the global financial markets did not result in essential influence on the existing conditions and the deficit financing structure of the current account of the country’s balance of international payments. But the country’s financial stability was largely influenced by changing global prices for raw materials, oil and petroleum products, natural gas as well as the demand for Belarus-made products in the country’s major trade partners, first of all, the Russian Federation.

    The analytic review says, in 2007 Belarus benefited from the favourable foreign market situation, which was caused by rapidly growing prices for energy resources and food. Belarus benefited a lot from higher prices for several most important commodities on foreign markets. The average export prices for oil went up by 28.5%, ferrous metals — 33.8%, trucks — 31.3%, timber — 47%, potash fertilisers — 21.2%, nitrogen fertilisers — 57%.

    The direct effect was brought about by the high demand for the commodities on foreign markets, allowing Belarusian enterprises to work at full capacity and thus to increase industrial output. The indirect effect was achieved through higher tax revenues and fees on foreign trade operations the state budget collected.

    Meanwhile, in 2007 the Belarusian economy was quite seriously shocked by worse terms of trade with Russia. It resulted in a major increase in prices for imported primary energy resources, changes of terms of oil import and petroleum products export, restrictions on some Belarusian exports to Russia in H1 2007. The major increase in prices for imported intermediary goods (127.1%, with prices for energy intermediary goods up by 143.1%, oil and gas — 110% and 134.6% respectively) as well higher customs duties on petroleum products contributed to larger outlays and a worse financial status of Belarusian companies in the industries, which were the main consumers of the energy resources.

    On the whole, according to the review Belarus’ domestic economic development was stable in 2007. Meanwhile, certain macroeconomic risks related to a higher deficit of the current balance and the joint foreign debt as well as a larger burden on the banking system were observed.

    The document is the first one in a series of financial stability reviews of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus plans to make on an annual basis. Unlike NBRB regular publications, which are dedicated to trends in the economy and the money and credit sphere as well as the development of the banking industry and banking supervision, the financial stability reviews are focused on financial risks and will be the key NBRB papers to highlight the issues.

    The publications are supposed to present results of the analysis and monitoring of financial stability in Belarus the NBRB performs for the sake of detecting systematic risks and early prevention of systematic crisis phenomena in the financial industry.

    Financial stability reviews are supposed to contribute to the understanding of risks financial intermediaries face in the economic environment, warn financial institutions and market participants about possible general effects of single actions, reach an agreement concerning the financial stability and the improvement of the financial infrastructure.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Festival of National Cultures taking place in Grodno

    From: BelTA
    Representatives of the 25 nations will participate in the 7th Festival of National Cultures in Grodno which final phase is taking place on June 13-15, BelTA learnt from the festival directorate.

    The jury headed by People’s Artist of Belarus Mikhail Drinevsky selected over 700 soloists and art collectives. Partaking in the festival are Belarusian Bulgarians, Indians, Palestinians, Kabardinians, Kazakhs and Chuvashes.

    Grodno will hold nearly 40 events within the three festival days.

    Belarus preserves variety of national cultures, Alexander Lukashenko says

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko sent a greeting message to the participants and guests of the 7th Festival of National Cultures, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “Belarus developed centuries-old traditions of good neighbourhood, mutual assistance and respect between different nations that enrich the country’s spiritual treasury with the values of art heritage and present-day achievements,” the greeting message says. Today, Belarus creates all favourable conditions to preserve their cultural diversity and customs, the president underlined.

    The festival, a bright example of the governmental consistent policy, demonstrates the best achievements of various cultures, promotes peace and mutual understanding, the head of state considers.

    “Let young action grow stronger from year to year, display inexhaustible talent and creative vitality of the Belarusian people,” Alexander Lukashenko wished.

    Dubrovno to host international festival Dneprovskie Golosa

    The international festival Dneprovskie Golosa will open in Dubrovno (Vitebsk oblast) on June 14, BelTA learnt in the culture department of the Dubrovno Regional Executive Committee.

    Taking part in the festival will be amateur and professional folk bands from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. During the forum, participants and guests of the festival will be presented a map of miracles of the Dubrovno region. It will include species of architecture of the 17th-18th centuries, a 400-year oak-giant, the Dnepr River and, of course, the festival Dneprovskie Golosa in Dubrovno.

    15 years ago the folk festival in Dubrovno was planned as the festival of the cultures of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the countries which are united by the Dnepr River. However, every year the borders of the festival become wider. For instance, this year, artistes from Poland will take part in the forum for the first time.

    The guests of the festival will perform not only on stages of the regional center, they will also give concerts in rural areas. The Fire of Friendship near the St. Borodintsevsky Spring – one of the miracles of the Dubrovno region, will finish the festival on June 15.

    Higher social pensions with simpler calculation in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    On June 13 President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko issued Decree No 12 “Establishment of the sizes of social pensions”.

    The presidential press service told BelTA, the decree raises the size of social pensions and facilitates their calculation by setting them as percentage of the subsistence budget. It will correspond to the procedures used to calculate all other social payments.

    The new pensions still preserve category-based approach but are designed to ensure social pensions as high as at least 50% of the subsistence budget for all disabled citizens (regardless whether they are children, young disabled persons or retirement age people).

    Social pensions have been set for first degree disabled citizens, including people with inborn physical challenges, at 85% of the subsistence budget; second degree disabled, children, who lost the breadwinner, — 65% (for each kid), third degree disabled — 55%, retirement age people — 50%, disabled children under 18 depending on the loss of health — from 60% to 85%.

    Taking into account the subsistence budget in prices registered in March 2008, social pensions for the first, second and third degree disabled citizens will make Br178,500, Br136,500 and Br115,600 respectively, for retirement age people — Br105,100. Labour and social pensions are differentiated, stressed the press service.

    The decree comes into force on the first day of the month past the publication date, is temporary and is forwarded for consideration of the National Assembly in line with Section 3, Article 101 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.

    Foreign ministries of Belarus, France discuss political dialogue prospects

    From: BelTA
    Prospects of developing the political dialogue were high on agenda of ministerial consultations between Belarusian and French Foreign Ministries in Paris. The sides shared views regarding priorities of the two countries’ foreign policies, discussed the development of Belarus’ relations with the European Union in view of France’s forthcoming European Union presidency as well as the creation of the legal base for the bilateral relations, prospects of economic cooperation and consular affairs, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The Belarusian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Voronetsky. Represented by the departments for continental Europe, European cooperation, the agency for foreign policy and general security as well as the consular affairs department of the Foreign Ministry, the French side was headed by Jacques Faure, Director of the Continental Europe Department.

    “Due to the topicality and the acute problem connected with facilitating visa procedures for Belarusians by member-states of the Schengen Zone Agreement additional consultations between Head of the Consular Affairs Department of the Foreign Ministry Andrei Giro and the leadership of the corresponding department of the French Foreign Ministry were held,” said the source.

    Belarus is attractive for British business, British Ambassador says

    The British business is showing a great interest in business opportunities in Belarus, Mr. Nigel Gould-Davies, the head of the British diplomatic mission in Minsk, told a press conference in Minsk on June 12.

    “British business is ready to invest in any sector of the Belarusian economy which is stable, predictable, transparent,” the Ambassador said.

    The diplomat praised the recent measures taken in Belarus to liberalise the economy. “If the liberalization process continues, the interest of British companies will be growing,” the head of the diplomatic mission said. According to him, the finance activity can become a primary focus. “I know there are several big banks that are considering Belarus as a possible partner,” Nigel Gould-Davies noted.

    The Ambassador also praised the plans of the Belarusian government to hold a Belarusian investment forum in London in November this year. Speaking about possible areas of cooperation, the British Ambassador said that Belarus’ major export to Great Britain is oil products. He also noted high-quality products of Neman Glassworks. The Ambassador also said that Britain shows interest in Belarusian furniture. “As for me, I love Belarusian sweets,” the ambassador noted.

    Mr Nigel Gould-Davies has assured that the international experience of London business circles is available for Belarusian companies which seek an access to financial services.

  • Economics...

    Gomselmash to raise investments in technical upgrade

    From: BelTA
    In 2008, Gomselmash will invest Br100 billion in the fixed capital, 2.5 times up over 2007. The funds will be put in technical upgrade and implementation of the investment projects in line with the state innovation development programme, BelTA learnt from Ivan Kotlobai, the deputy head of the company’s advertisement and marketing department.

    The company’s large investment projects are focused on the production of efficient fodder harvesters. All the projects will be introduced together with the energy saving technologies.

    According to the specialist, consistent technical upgrading enables the company to renew its line-up. The targeted marketing policy, the experience in the production of farm machines coupled with the computer-aided design methods formed the present-day Gomselmash as a modern multi-field producer of over 25 models of farm machines and equipment.

    Gomselmash Company is a multi-business producer of farm machines used to cultivate and harvest basic crops utilising contemporary agrarian technologies. The company’s line-up includes machines for harvesting grain, forage crops, sugar beet, potato, as well as mowers and machines for complex soil cultivation.

    The company’s designing, manufacturing and maintenance practices are certified for compliance with the international quality management system ISO 9001-2001. Many times Gomselmash won awards at contests “Belarus Best Products” and “Belarus Best Products in the Russian Federation”. The corporation was established on the basis of Gomselmash plant in 1978. The plant was founded in 1930. At present the company employs over 18,000 people.

    In Q1 2008 Gomselmash exports up 4.5 times

    In January-May 2008, Production Association Gomselmash increased its exports 4.5 times to reach $147.8 million from the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the enterprise. The exports accounted for 60% of the company’s total sales.

    The major importer of Gomselmash agricultural machines is Russia, namely Altai and Krasnodar krai, Kursk and Smolensk regions and Republic of Tatarstan (the total of 45 regions). In Q1 2008, the exports to Russia accounted for 76.5% of the total exports to reach $113 million.

    The growth in exports was made possible due to the active work of the trading houses “Gomselmash-Siberia” in Novosibirsk region and “Gomselmash-South” in Krasnodar krai that were established in 2007. The export development was also furthered by the expansion of the distribution network in Ukraine and the establishment of joint enterprises in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The aftersales service of the Gomselmash agricultural machines was dramatically enhanced to fully meet consumer requirements. In particular, the warranty period has been extended up to two years, the machines are examined regardless of their time in commission, and the machine-operators receive special instructions on maintenance before the machines are purchased.

    In 2008, the exports to Ukraine already reached $28.8 million or 19.5% of the total exports. It is second most prospective market after Russia. In Q1 2008, the export to Kazakhstan neared $5 million. A joint assembly production has already been set up there. The joint venture plans to increase the export of the Belarusian agricultural machines to Kazakhstan at least two times.

    In 2008, the distribution network of the Gomselmash production will be improved through the establishment of trading houses in Central and Central Black Earth economic regions of Russia. A similar network is planned to be set up in Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria.

  • From the International Press...

    DEATH PENALTY-BELARUS: Officials Hint Moratorium a Step Away

    From: IPS News
    Belarus -- the last country in Europe to apply the death penalty -- will eventually abolish capital punishment by presidential decree or parliamentary vote, rather than by calling on the people to decide the issue in a referendum.

    This was confirmed in a carefully-worded statement by the country's prosecutor general, Grigory Vasilevich, issued to IPS on June 6.

    "The Constitutional Court believes that under existing conditions only the president and the parliament are able to abolish the death penalty or declare a moratorium," Vasilevich said, adding that the punishment in Belarus was only a "temporary" measure.

    Earlier, the deputy head of the presidential administration, Natalia Petkevich, had insisted that the death penalty could be abolished only by a referendum.

    One referendum decision could only be cancelled by another referendum, Petkevich had said, referring to the 1996 referendum in which 80.4 percent of the people rejected the idea of abolishing capital punishment.

    Ever since that widely-disputed referendum, Belarusian officials have used it to fend off calls for an end to executions.

    Vasilevich also noted the result of the 1996 referendum. But the "temporary character" of the death penalty in Belarus was now written into the constitution. In 2006, the country's penal code had also been specifically amended to reflect this essential feature, he said.

    Vasilevich gave no indication when Belarus, a nation of nearly 10 million people which was formerly part of the Soviet Union, would abolish capital punishment.

    Since independence in 1991, there have been executions every year. In 1997, the courts were allowed for the first time to award life sentences for grave crimes. After this, the number of executions peaked at 47 in 1998 and then rapidly declined.

    Last year, at least four death sentences were handed down and there was one execution, according to Amnesty International.

    In February this year, three members of the so-called "Morozov" gang, convicted of a number of killings and robberies, were executed by firing squad.

    The executions provoked a furious reaction from the Council of Europe, the 47-member institution where death penalty abolition is a membership requirement.

    "The Belarusian authorities have once again chosen the course of barbarism and injustice," the president of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, Lluis Maria de Puig, fumed in a statement to the press.

    "President (Alexander) Lukashenko could have commuted these sentences and thus shown a clear determination to bring Belarus closer to the Council of Europe," he added.

    Clearly stunned by the language, the chairman of the lower house of the Belarus parliament, Vadim Popov, responded by asking why the Council of Europe did not turn its criticism on the U.S. which still operated a death penalty system.

    But Popov also offered the organisation an olive branch. He conceded that it was time "to discuss this issue". This would create the environment for a decision.

    "Let's join forces to change public opinion ... Let's see how the people react to this issue," he told a press conference in the capital Minsk in April.

    But he added the death penalty would be "impossible to abolish in one go", appearing to suggest that the next step would be to declare a moratorium.

    Later, the head of the Constitutional Court, Valentin Sukalo, was more explicit in an interview with the official newsagency Belta. "We never insisted on keeping this measure (capital punishment)," he said. The way was open for Belarus to declare "at least" a moratorium.

    Vitali Silitski, director of the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies, said a moratorium was possible in return for more favourable treatment from the EU.

    But full abolition would only come with a change in the regime, he told IPS.

    Pavel Marazau, head of the NGO Third Way, said that a moratorium would be "an easy step" for Belarus to take.

    "This could be a personal decision of (president) Lukashenko which can be taken without any public discussion," he told IPS.

    Valery Filippov, executive director of the Republican Public Association for Legislative Initiatives, expressed caution about reading too much into official statements on the death penalty.

    In the past, officials had given out deliberative contradictory statements because of the pressure from the EU, he told IPS.

    He added that the issue was particularly complicated.

    Public opinion on the death penalty issue would be difficult to alter because of the near-total official control of the media. Many citizens supported the right to seek revenge for crimes.

    Vitak Rymashueski, co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, one of more than a dozen opposition parties, also expressed the view that it was impossible to gauge public opinion on the death penal issue when there was no freedom of speech.

    Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organisation, said it is currently campaigning for Belarus -- a "notoriously unique" country in Europe -- to abolish the death penalty.

    It was propaganda and prejudice that convinced people that the death penalty was the solution to grave crime, said Slava Kudryavtsev, Amnesty's specialist on Russia and the former Soviet republics.

    "It would be much better if the death penalty is abolished not because of pressure or sanction from outside the country, but because the people and the government understand the benefits of this step," he told IPS.

    Pope Will Get a Monument in Belarus

    From: Kommersant
    Belarusian Catholics are preparing for the visit of the Vatican’s influential Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone to unveil a monument to Pope Benedict XVI. The monument will stand in the village of Luchai, Postavsky District, Vitebsk Region. The Minsk diocese of the Roman Catholic Church announced that the ceremonial presentation of the monument was timed to coincide with the cardinal’s visit on June 18 at the invitation of the Belarusian government.

    There are already two monuments to Pope John Paul II in Belarus. One was erected in 2005 near the Church of St. Anne in the village of Mosar, Gluboksky District, Vitebsk Region. It is life size and stands in the midst of a rock-and-flower garden. The second monument to Polish pope stands in Volozhin, Minsk Region. It was erected in 2007.


    From: This Is Exeter
    An alleged victim of an Exeter waiter accused of multiple rape has told a jury she gave into his sexual demands to stop him from stabbing her friend with a pair of scissors.

    The woman, who was 18 at the time of the alleged offence, was giving evidence in the trial of 31-year-old Abdullah Al-Jaber, a waiter from the Lord Haldon Hotel in Dunchideock, near Exeter, who has denied six charges of rape.

    "He said if I did anything wrong - he put scissors near my friend's stomach - he said, 'I'll stab her in the stomach'," she told Exeter Crown Court.

    Under cross-examination, she denied being a prostitute or lying that she had been raped in order to avoid getting in trouble with her family when she and her friend returned to their lodgings later than expected.

    The prosecution alleges that Al-Jaber, who was a stranger to the girls, met the 18-year-old, from Belarus, and her 16-year-old Russian friend when they were chatting in Exeter High Street after the women had enjoyed a night out.

    It is claimed he invited them to his brother's restaurant but instead drove them to countryside where he attacked them in the early hours of August 6, last year.

    The prosecution say he threatened them with scissors and warned he would kill them if they did not submit, before raping them three times each and then driving them back to the city.

    Al-Jaber told police after the arrest that the women offered to have consensual sex with him in return for money.

    The woman, giving evidence yesterday, said Al-Jaber began talking about ghosts when he parked his car and how he felt scared.

    "Then he got out the scissors," she said, describing how he ordered her to hand over everything in her bag, told them both to undress and raped them.

    "I was scared," she said, later adding: "My friend was in a complete state of shock and fright."

    The woman described trying to fight back.

    The woman said Al-Jaber bit her hand after she scratched his eye and he then grabbed the scissors back from her friend.

    "He looked at the mirror and he looked at himself and he said, 'you scratched me' and he said, 'I was trying to be nice with you and now you scratch me'."

    She said the rapes then continued, with Al-Jaber screaming and shouting at them both.

    Under cross-examination, she denied defence counsel Sally O'Neill QC's suggestion that she and her friend had agreed to have sex for money.

    She agreed that her friend had smoked marijuana with Al-Jaber in the car shortly before the alleged attacks and that she had not seen the 16-year-old being forced to do this.

    But she said the sexual activity was done under threat of being hurt with the scissors.

    Group in Horki, Mahilyow region, said to have collected more than 2,500 signatures against nuclear power plant project

    From: Naveny
    A civil society group in the Horki district, Mahilyow region, has collected more than 2,500 signatures to a petition against the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus, journalist Eduard Brokaraw, spokesman for the group, told BelaPAN.

    The petition will soon be sent to the Presidential Administration and the National Assembly, Mr. Brokaraw said.

    “We don’t want to be sitting on a powder keg, waiting for another disaster to break out,” the group says in the petition. “We call on the president, the government and the parliament to repeal the decision and to re-direct the allocated funds toward developing safe power supply technologies.”

    The campaign will not stop until the decision to build the plant is reversed, Mr. Brokaraw said.

    While collecting signatures, campaigners inform local residents about the possible consequences of the construction of a nuclear power plant for them and the environment, he noted.

    According to Mr. Brokaraw, his group will soon launch a similar campaign in Mstsislaw, Mahilyow region.

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

    The construction of the $4-billion power plant was expected to begin this year and to be completed in 2018. The 2,000-MW plant is supposed to supply some 15 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

  • From the Opposition...

    Anatol Liabedzka to pay for ‘European March’?

    From: Viasna
    The court of Tsentralny district of Minsk informed Anatol Liabedzka, chairman of the United Civil Party, about the beginning of the procedure of exacting 2 242 770 rubles for the benefit of the Horremautador, enterprise of Minsk city execute committee. The court considered this sum equal to the harm which had been allegedly inflicted to the enterprise by participants of the European March. In the case he does not pay the whole sum in the due time (seven days) Liabedzka’s property can be confiscated by court marshals.

    According to the politician, one of the peculiarities of the Belarusian situation is that racketeering and gangsterism constitute a part of the functional duties of officials and judges.

    Beings asked how one could struggle against it, Liabedzka answered that he would not be surprised if fines from opposition-minded people would be one of the income categories in the next year’s state budget and judges and policemen would receive percents from it. ‘I don’t see any other solution but trying to get the international community freeze the accounts of the Belarusian subjects of economy and direct this money on payment of the fines to which the political opponents of the regime are sentenced,’ stated Liabedzka.

    Another interesting thing is that the whole sum is exacted from Liabedzka alone, though the European March action was organized by seven persons, who were even tried together. The UCP leader is sure that the court ‘cannot even make a nine lines long document without mistakes’.

    Authorities to eliminate independent media

    From: Charter '97
    In case the law on media is adopted as it is currently drafted, independent media will get irreparable blow, which will make it difficult for them to survive and lead to eliminating of independent media in the country. Lawyers from the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) have come to this conclusion, having analysed the draft law on media, introduced for the first reading in the lower chamber of the Belarusian “parliament.”

    The BAJ lawyers had an opportunity to learn the Draft Law on Media and have prepared an expert evaluation of the draft document. The BAJ press service offers the comments of experts from the BAJ Center for Legal Protection of the Media, former judge of the Constitutional Court Mikhail Pastukhou lawyer Yury Taparashau on some provisions of the law.

    * * *
    New Law on “Mass Media” can considerably harden conditions for independent mass media activities

    Expert evaluation of the draft law “On Mass Media”

    In this case we are not dealing with amendments to the Law on Press, but with a principally new law regulating work of mass media. In general the structure of the current law in force is preserved, but this draft law brings considerable innovations to the legal regulation of mass media activities. In case of adoption of the draft law it could become disastrous for development of independent journalism in the Republic of Belarus.

    The first and the most important novelty is legal treatment of the World Wide Web as a mass media source. Its regulation is to be carried out not only on the level of the law, but by by-laws as well.

    The law includes Article 8 “Financing of mass media”. In line with that, some mass media can receive financing from the state and regional budgets, and from other sources as well, while others are prohibited to receive money or other assets from foreign legal entities and anonymous sources.

    The draft law preserves the administrative procedure of declarative and licensing registration of mass media (Art. 11-13). It is fully applied to online mass media with an addition which is to de defined by the Government. The only positive aspect in the procedure of registration of the mass media is an absence of mentioning a notorious approval on a mass medium’s facility location by local authorities.

    It should be kept in mind that the draft law makes the order of re-registration of mass media harsher. In particular, if a newspaper or a magazine hadn’t been released for more than 6 months (and not a year, as it is stated by the law now), re-registration is compulsory. There are also other grounds for re-registration of mass media (Art. 14).

    Article 17 of the draft law provides that distribution of mass media would be allowed only for legal entities which have functions of editorial offices, or basing on the agreement concluded by them with press retailers. It is also noted that the policy of online media distribution is to be regulated by governmental acts.

    One more novelty of the draft law is establishment of the Public Coordinating committee in the sphere of mass media (Art. 28). Its makeup and the order of its work are to be defined by the Information Ministry.

    The institute of accreditation will be changed considerably. Article 1 of the draft law views accreditation as “offering a journalist a right to cover events organized by state bodies”.

    Article 35 of the draft law defines the rights of the accreditation. Part two states that a journalist’s accreditation procedure is established by state bodies. That is, not a law, but an official is to decide to whom an accreditation will be granted, and who will be denied it. Part 4 of this article includes a categorical instruction that professional activities of journalists of foreign media at the territory of Belarus without accreditation are prohibited.

    Article 36 of the draft law maintains the right of citizens, including journalists, to receive, store and disseminate information. But the second part of the Article states that state institutions “can give mass media information about their activities by holding press-conferences, sending informational materials and statistics data and in other ways”.

    To our mind, this provision contradicts the Constitution (Art. 34) and Law on Press (Art. 32) which say not about a possibility (can provide information), but about an obligation to provide information about activities of state bodies to all citizens.

    Article 37 on “Restricted Information” could be called one of the scandalous articles of the draft law. It contains a list of such information, which is finished by a reference to other kinds of information which could be envisaged by “legal acts of the Republic of Belarus”.

    Besides, Article 38 of the draft law gives the list of information which dissemination in mass media is prohibited.

  • Around the region...

    During His Visit to Ukraine, Steve Ballmer Named SoftServe, Inc. Among Reliable Partners

    From: PR Canada
    Microsoft Corp CEO Steve Ballmer visited Ukraine to make a series of announcements and to address leaders of key public and commercial institutions. Ballmer met with key partners, customers and employees of Microsoft Ukraine and opened the company's new office facilities in Kyiv.

    Ukraine is one of five countries on Ballmer's tour across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) from 19–23 May. This first-ever extensive CEE tour clearly demonstrates Microsoft's commitment to one of the most dynamic regions in the world in terms of economic and IT growth.

    "The CEE region is Microsoft's fastest-growing market, and the Ukraine IT sector in particular is seeing strong expansion. Microsoft is committed to contributing to Ukraine's ongoing transition to a knowledge economy, and to helping government, business, and society use the power of information technology to create sustainable economic progress," said Ballmer during his visit.

    According to IDC, in 2007 Ukraine outstripped other CEE countries with the highest IT industry growth rates. With almost 40 per cent growth and over $3.4 billion in volume, the Ukrainian IT market ranks fourth after Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic. "This rapid growth explains the interest in the Ukrainian market of such global IT leaders as Microsoft, which ultimately enhances our integration into the global IT community," noted Volodymyr Pozdnyakov, regional manager and head of IDC in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

    At the ceremony of signing the agreement on opening a Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) based at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University, Ballmer noted: "Microsoft's success depends on partnerships with other software companies, and we have more than 250,000 business partners in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.” At the meeting with key partners and customers, Microsoft CEO named SoftServe among reliable partners in Ukraine.

    “Naturally, we are delighted to receive such recognition from the head of Microsoft. We hope that our profound relationship with Microsoft will continue to strengthen based of trust and mutual advantage,” says Taras Kytsmey, Chief Executive Officer of SoftServe. "We pride ourselves on delivering significant business value to our clients worldwide and it is gratifying that this tacit acknowledgement from Steve Ballmer confirms our exceptional reliability and top-notch technical proficiency.”

    EU should extend hand to Ukraine

    From: Chronical Herald
    The victory of the Orange Revolution in 2004 would have been an opportune time for the European Union to extend the invitation of full membership to Ukrainians in a show of support for democracy and liberal freedoms. This opportunity was missed, however, largely because of indecision on the part of EU nations.

    With Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s recent visit to Canada, and the Canadian government’s position in support of Ukrainian membership in NATO, it increasingly appears that now is the time for other Western nations, particularly those of the EU, to extend an open hand to Ukraine in the form of EU and NATO membership. Failure to do so will have negative consequences for further democratic consolidation in the region and will surrender the initiative to an increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian Russia.

    One factor inhibiting decisive action on the part of Brussels is that many of the EU nations suffer from "enlargement fatigue." On this issue, while it is true that Ukrainian political and economic reforms lag behind recent EU and NATO newcomers such as the Czech Republic and Baltic States, this is not sufficient justification for withholding an invitation of full membership to Ukraine. After all, Ukrainian efforts at democratization and economic reform have been relatively on par with the EU’s and NATO’s newest members, Romania and Bulgaria. Both of them, despite continually lagging in meeting the EU membership requirements on political and economic reform, were offered open membership invitations by Brussels.

    Shutting the door on Ukrainian membership will result in several negative consequences.

    First, it only increases the prospect that anti-democratic forces in Ukraine, who are opposed to further democratic consolidation and Western integration, will be emboldened to roll back the already tenuous efforts at democratization. The danger in this rests in the fact that those political elites who oppose EU and NATO integration have also tended to be made up of many former communist elites, such as Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, who have strong ties to Russia, and who have consistently worked to thwart increased democratic and liberal economic reforms.

    Second, continued reluctance to offer the prospect of EU membership will serve to demoralize Ukrainian forces favouring increased democratization and economic reform. Effectively, it acts as a slap in the face after the many sacrifices that Ukrainians have already made in their transitioning to democracy since 1991, after years of domination and oppression under Soviet Communism. The prospect of full membership would encourage democratic leaders in Ukraine, such as President Yushchenko, because they would have something tangible to offer the people that would justify further liberal reforms and democratization.

    Finally, not granting an invitation of full membership to Ukraine will forfeit the game to Russia and only do a disservice to the spread of democratization. All too often EU nations, particularly France and Germany, have been overly concerned with trying not to hurt Russia’s pride, in the na?ve belief that this will help maintain stability in the region and lessen the appeal of anti-democratic forces. These attempts increasingly appear to be failing.

    This failure is exemplified in two ways: first, by Europe’s disinterest and muted criticisms of Russia’s close ally, Belarus, and its backslide into what resembles neo-communist totalitarianism; and second, by the glaring reversal of Russia’s much hyped "democratization," and Moscow’s increasingly revanchist stance towards neighbouring countries. With Moscow’s increasing desire to re-exert control over former Soviet republics, failure to provide to Ukraine the promise of open membership in the EU and NATO could all but doom Ukraine’s tenuous democracy.

    If history is any lesson, not offering the promise of full EU and NATO membership to Ukraine in its time of need will have long-term, dire consequences for the prospect of achieving democratization, security in Europe and world peace. Now is the time for nations of NATO and the EU to act together and speak loudly in support of democratization. There may not be another opportune chance to help bolster democratic forces in Ukraine, like that which was provided by the Orange Revolution. It is imperative that the nations of the EU and NATO act now before the important presidential election of 2010 to send the message to all Ukrainians who yearn for democracy, human rights and individual freedoms, that the Western democracies stand in solidarity with them.

    Russia blasts UN Kosovo chief as EU role planned

    From: Reuters and IHT
    Joachim Ruecker
    Russia demanded disciplinary action against the head of the United Nations mission in Kosovo on Thursday for preparing to hand over powers to a European Union mission that Moscow says is illegal.

    Russia's foreign ministry made the demand on the same day NATO chiefs met to try and iron out problems over the international security presence in Kosovo, which announced its secession from Serbia this year.

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a question from the media about "information" that U.N. official Joachim Ruecker was taking arbitrary steps to reduce the mission. In a statement, ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said such reports "raise serious concern."

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a question from the media about "information" that U.N. official Joachim Ruecker was taking arbitrary steps to reduce the mission. In a statement, ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said such reports "raise serious concern."

    A spokesman for Ruecker's office told The Associated Press that "any issues related to reconfiguration we discuss with headquarters in New York." Spokesman Alexander Ivanko said the U.N. secretary-general had given Kosovo's president a recommendation on how the mission will look in the future. Ivanko did not supply details.

    In the Foreign Ministry announcement, Nesterenko said, "We are talking about a glaring case of arbitrary action, which must decisively be prevented. We proceed from the assumption that administrative measures will be taken against Joachim Ruecker, up to dismissal from his post."

    Nesterenko did not say what steps Russia believes Ruecker had taken to curtail or wrap up the U.N. mission. A duty officer at the Foreign Ministry said he was unaware of the details and that nobody was available for further comment Thursday, a state holiday.

    But Nesterenko suggested Ruecker was exceeding his authority, stressing that any decisions regarding the mission or changes in the international presence in Kosovo can be made only with the approval of the U.N. Security Council. "The leaders of the U.N. Secretariat are well aware of this. As far as we know, Joachim Ruecker has not received any instructions from them," he said.

    Alliance defence ministers meeting in Brussels will also hear a U.S. call for them to follow up on promises of more troops in Afghanistan, and will urge their Russian counterpart to ease tensions with Georgia over the Abkhazia region.

    Kosovo's disputed Feb. 17 secession from Serbia passed off calmly but has left questions over the security arrangements in the territory, administered by the United Nations after NATO's 1999 bombing campaign to drive out Serb forces.

    In a long-awaited move, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sought on Thursday to answer those questions by setting out a "reconfiguration" of its activities to allow the European Union to pursue its goal of launching a police mission there.

    "It is my intention to reconfigure the structure and profile of the international civil presence to one that ... enables the European Union to assume an enhanced operational role in Kosovo in accordance with resolution 1244," Ban said in the letter to Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu, obtained by Reuters.

    Russia, which opposes Kosovo's independence and says the EU has no mandate to be there, demanded disciplinary action against the head of the U.N. Mission to Kosovo, saying it was "seriously concerned" by reports that the mission was being wound up.

    "It is obvious that any actions with regard to UNMIK, or a changing in the format of the international presence in Kosovo, are only possible on the basis of a decision of the U.N. Security Council," a Russian Foreign ministry statement said.

    Details of the UNMIK shake-up were not immediately available but Ban said it would apply "for a limited duration and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo".


    Diplomats expect Ban to set up arrangements under which the 2,200-strong EU mission -- already months behind schedule because of Russian resistance at the United Nations -- will function autonomously but under the umbrella of a U.N. mandate.

    In Pristina, Sejdiu told reporters: "I have received the letter from Ban. We cannot comment. We are still analysing it."

    Serb officials have said they expect to be granted extensive rights to administer the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo as part of the UNMIK reconfiguration, in what some analysts fear could be the first step towards a de facto partition.

    In a separate conundrum for NATO ministers, obstacles have also emerged over longstanding NATO plans to train Kosovo's own armed force. Diplomats said Turkey was concerned the effort would mean sharing sensitive information with EU member Cyprus, the island at the centre of decades of Turkish-Greek tension.

    Separately, some of the countries which have not recognised Kosovo -- such as Spain -- are also unhappy with internal NATO planning documents for the training mission which they argue use terminology assuming Kosovo's independent statehood.

    "I do not see a happy end to this just yet," said one NATO diplomat, playing down prospects for consensus in Brussels over arrangements for NATO help in creating a 2,500-strong, lightly armed "Kosovo Security Force" (KSF).

    The wrangling comes just days before the June 15 date when Kosovo's new constitution comes into force and when questions over the new security make-up for the territory were long supposed to have been settled.

    Allies fear that the delay in a planned handover from the United Nations to the EU of police tasks in Kosovo could mean that alliance troops are burdened with duties such as riot control for which they have not been trained.

    Yet despite their concerns, NATO officials stress NATO's core peacekeeping force in Kosovo will remain there.

    "NATO has been the backbone of stability in this period of transition and it is essential that continues," said a senior U.S. official.

    Alleged Russia Ties Entangle McCain Campaign: Manager Worked for Kremlin-Backed Candidate in Ukraine

    From: ABC News
    John McCain's presidential campaign is blasting a New York Times report suggesting that the candidate may have known since 2005 that his campaign manager's firm worked for a Kremlin-backed politician.

    The McCain campaign is strongly denying the paper's reporting that in 2005, a White House National Security Council staffer called John McCain's Senate office to complain that Rick Davis' lobbying firm was "undercutting American policy on Ukraine" by representing a Kremlin-backed politician.

    The Bush White House -- and McCain – opposed Yanukovich, whom the United States and others had accused of election fraud, and benefiting from violence and intimidation towards journalists.

    McCain's campaign categorically denied that Davis was involved in his firm's work for the Ukranian politician – did not prepare briefings for U.S. officials or lawmakers, did not schedule meetings involving Yanukovich, did not draft talking points, and did not make phone calls on Yanukovich's behalf.

    "He was not involved in any work his firm did on Ukraine, including Yanukovich," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

    If the account of the NSC staffer's call is true, it suggests McCain should have known about the work by Davis' business -- but installed him as campaign manager anyway. McCain's campaign, which had earlier referred a New York Times reporter to McCain's Senate office, now disputes that such a phone call ever happened.

    "It's absolutely nonsense, it never occurred," Rogers said.

    The story also raises the possibility that Davis' firm may have violated the anti-espionage Foreign Agents Registration Act, by failing to register work for Yanukovich with the U.S. government.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Canadian & U.S. Investors Mistreated in Poland

    From: Canada Free Press
    The 10th Global Survey on Corrupt Business Practices, published in May 2008 by the Ernst & Young, whose roots go back to the 19th century and to its founders Arthur Young and Alwin C Ernst, revealed that “Almost every fifth Polish company (18%) experienced an incident of corruption, which is more than double the figure reported in developed markets (8% affirmative responses). The level of corruption in Poland is twice as high as in developed countries.”

    “But it is in Western Europe that 25% of companies perceive corruption as a major threat to business, while only 16% of companies in Poland share this opinion. Companies operating in developed markets have more trust in the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies (85%) than their Polish counterparts – only 54% of Polish companies share this approach. According to Mariusz Witalis, Fraud Risk Management Director of Ernst & Young Business Advisory, the survey findings clearly indicate that the awareness of threats related to corruption is not accompanied by appropriate steps taken by companies in order to implement mechanisms that would prevent the occurrence of such risks. “We realise corruption is a problem,” says Mariusz Witalis, “but we are not really sure how to deal with it.”

    The recent Ernst & Young survey encompassed 1,180 senior executives from major companies in 33 countries worldwide. It was not focused on foreign companies exposed to corruption practice in the respective countries in which they were doing their business. In Poland, there is still deeply embedded a “post-Communist” way of doing business, especially when business is being made between state-owned and private enterprises. Polish state-owned companies are mostly run by politically appointed managers, who display loyalty not to their own firms but to their political parties, the state administration and also to informal political-business groups which sometimes could be simply called mafia-type organizations.

    After the regime change in 1989, Poland embarked on a large-scale privatization drive. Selling state property to Polish and especially to foreign private business provided a unique opportunity to dishonest state administration officials, local government officials, some managers and political party activists to quickly enrich themselves on state property. Secret deals were being arranged, involving forced bankrupcy of some enterprises to be sold at the lowest posssible value, with bribes paid to their “privatizers.” Much have changed to better since the early 1990s, but still there are several opportunities for corrupt businessmen and officials. Their methods became more “sophisticated” but their purpose remained the same: to make quick money or to obtain positions of control over state property turned private.

    Foreign business is not without blame, either. As the fight against corruption in Poland has been intensified and several special services are now involved in the investigation of these crimes, many cases of bribing officials by big international corporations and powerful foreign national firms are under investigation. These include bribing physicians, hospital managers and even high government officials by known pharmaceutical companies, suspected sales of major Polish industries to foreign firms (below their real value), and even some attempts to create “cartels” to impose higher prices of some indispensable industrial products, like cement.

    Bribes are not the only problem, but corruption certainly requires “two to tango” in order to complete a dishonest deal. A link between Polish state-owned companies and foreign investors provides many such opportunities. A clear example of corruptive environment, still prevailing in Poland, could be the case of an unfinished grain terminal in the Baltic port of Gdansk, a joint American-Canadian investment.

    POLAND: Washing the Dirty Laundry

    From: IPS News
    The former conservative government's abuse of the Polish secret services for ideological and political aims has left Polish intelligence in complete disarray.

    Last year's October election put an end to the conservative rule of Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice (PiS) party in a vote comfortably won by the liberal Civic Platform (PO) of current Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

    Prosecutors and inquiry commissions are investigating alleged abuse of powers in various intelligence organisations as the government prepares for a thorough reform of the seemingly impenetrable secret services.

    Polish secret service agencies are accused of serving partisan interests, falsifying documents, leaking sensitive information, abusing bugging devices, enticement to corruption and in general of violating internal rules.

    Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza claims that wiretapping increased dramatically before the latest elections, and was even applied against journalists, or doctors suspected of performing abortions.

    All seems to have served the ideological purposes of the staunchly Catholic, anti-communist and anti-liberal Polish cabinet of Kaczynski.

    "Their theory was that a rectangle of post-communists, secret services, businessmen and politicians intersect in the post-communist reality and, because there wasn't a proper decommunisation (ridding the state of communist influence), they have accumulated power to the extent that by working together they can control the whole state," Andrzej Bobinski, programme coordinator at the Centre for International Relations in Warsaw told IPS.

    Now suspicions grow that the outgoing cabinet, which did not expect to lose, tried and is still trying to conceal proof of its activities while in power.

    Only two days after losing the elections, Kaczynski issued an order establishing a procedure to eliminate Internal Security Agency (ABW) internal documents, leading to suspicions that he was opening the door for erasing evidence of illegal operations.

    The tragic outcome of a particularly high-profile operation of the ABW remains shrouded in mystery.

    In April 2007 ABW officers entered the home of former left-wing minister Barbara Bilda, with a camera crew waiting outside. Actions of the civilian secret services were at times televised as a public demonstration of the righteousness of the ruling camp's struggle against 'post-communist cliques'.

    As her house was being searched for evidence of corruption, officers claim Bilda went into the bathroom and shot herself. No official charges had been pressed against her, and a parliamentary inquiry commission is now looking into the circumstances of her death, and the dubious judicial procedures and accusations that preceded it.

    The previous government's sensationalistic actions did not end with its term, as key figures faithful to the conservative camp remain in influential positions.

    Shortly after the elections, several documents on the ongoing vetting of secret service personnel were copied and moved to the Presidential Chancellery, the new political stronghold of the right. Government officials have not been allowed to see the documents at their new location, and prosecutors are now dealing with the case.

    The former prime minister's twin brother and PiS member Lech Kaczynski remains the country's president.

    A parliamentary committee on the secret services has recommended a drastic reduction in the activities of the SKW since it considers that the disappearance of documents endangers the lives of Polish soldiers, secret agents and informants.

    PiS politicians accuse the current authorities of harassing intelligence officers and jeopardising the previous governments' achievements in ridding the secret services of post-communist and Russian influence.

    This was mainly done by disbanding the Military Information Service (WSI) in 2006, as the right believed its communist-era links with Russian secret services and the fact that many Polish officers received training in Moscow posed a threat to national security.

    The move, which at the time was supported by Tusk's party, is thought to have severely weakened the security of Polish troops and officials in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Last October Polish ambassador to Iraq General Edward Pietrzyk miraculously survived a bomb attack on his armoured car, which many interpreted as the indirect consequence of a sudden absence of Polish intelligence in the field.

    "It is believed that because they got rid of so many people there wasn't the manpower to create a service with the needed experience, which in Poland you only had if you served under the communists," Bobinski told IPS.

    The PiS quickly set up the new Military Intelligence Service, recruiting also right-wing journalists, boy scouts and foresters who had received little education. The service saw record-speed promotions and in some instances a mere 17 hours of training.

    Polish intelligence hit a new low in March when secret agents irresponsibly revealed their identities by posting pictures of themselves during their Afghan missions on a social networking website.

    Former PM is being threatened?

    From: News.Pl
    Claiming that he was being threatened, the former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski applied for personal security.

    "Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that he was feeling threatened, that he had been receiving poison pen letters. I have no reason not to believe him so I gave him personal security", said Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration Grzegorz Schetyna in a conversation with the RMF FM radio.

    Schetyna added that he did so because Jaroslaw Kaczynski's application was credible, not because he is the twin brother of the incumbent President Lech Kaczynski.

    After the last year's electoral defeat of Law and Justice (PiS), Kaczynski stepped down from office as Prime Minister, after the first meeting of the newly elected parliament. He is presently chairman of the party.

  • Sport...

    Belarus, Latvia qualify for women's basketball in Olympics

    From: Xinhua
    Natallia Marchanka was a catalyst for Belarus once again with 21 points.
    Belarus and Latvia joined Spain and the Czech Republic in the Beijing Olympics after their quarter-final victories in the women's Olympic qualifying tournament here on Friday.

    Belarus stunned Brazil 86-79 as Natallia Marchanka and Anastasiya Verameyenka scored 21 and 19 points respectively, winning in overtime against the 2004 Olympics' fourth-placed finishers.

    Belarus levelled at 72-72, and ran away 14-7 in the extra period to reach the Olympics for the first time.

    Brazil lost captain Iziane Castro Marques who refused to enter the second half after an argument with coach Paulo Bassul at the interval.

    "As a leader I have to make difficult decisions. She didn't just say no to me, but to the group and the country. I don't know about the future," Bassul told reporters.

    Latvia crushed Angola 84-26 to make the Olympics for the first time, after going on a 17-point scoring run in the second quarter.

    However, experienced forward Ieva Tare dislocated her elbow early in the second half.

    Earlier, the Czech Republic and Spain booked their places with straight-forward wins.

    The Czechs, who beat Spain in the fifth-place play-off game in Athens in 2004, overturned a 10-point deficit before overcoming Japan 76-64.

    Forward Eva Viteckova and shooting guard Hana Machova led the way notching 26 and 19 points respectively.

    Spain, the European championship silver medallists, scored an 82-68 victory over Cuba.

    Elisa Aguilar, the veteran point guard, sank a game-high 28 points, with 17 coming in the second quarter, and was supported by Amaya Valdemoro with 18.

    Four quarter-final winners qualify directly, while the four losers play off in semi-finals on Saturday when Cuba will play Japan, and Angola will take on Brazil.

    The winners will meet in the final on Sunday to play-off for the fifth and final qualification slot.

    Qualifiers join hosts China, world champions Australia, gold medal holders US, Mali, South Korea, Russia, and New Zealand for the Olympics in August.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus: Behind the stereotypes

    From: fm4
    'The mad bad guy...?'

    Recently, I took a trip to Belarus. Why go there, isn't it that place that has that zany dictator Lukaschenko? I was always fascinated by this country because it tends to make headlines only because of the politics and because of him. But I wanted to go around Belarus and talk to ordinary people there to find out what people think about their way of life and how they view their future. I was accompanied by Ksenia Avimova who is a young female photographer and her pictures of the place & people there impressed me a lot. By the way check out her amazing photos on her blog:

    The lowdown

    The first thing that's remarkable about the country is that it is (for the most part) ignored. Yet, if you look at any map of Europe, it's by no means a small country. If you join Austria and the Czech Republic together that's probably about the size; then put about 10 million people in there. That's a fair number of people in Europe to accidently overlook. Having decided to go there the next question is who do I talk with? I wanted to leave politics alone because that is the only thing we ever hear about when it comes to Belarus.

    I resolved to get the thoughts of (in particular) women, students and gay people to get a sense of how life was for them in Belarus.

    People with a story to tell

    Let's take the situation of women. It is quite difficult to be a woman in Belarus if you are independently minded. This is a very conservative society; you have to be married very early, before you are 25 but you have to work too and you are expected to produce children and be something like a top model etc.

    I also wanted to drop by on some students. Interestingly, Belarus is one of the very few countries that has no contact with the Erasmus programme and I wanted to see how they live. After spending some time with them, it struck me that their ideals are not so far away from students in Paris, London or Vienna.

    And since Belarus is one of the few countries in Europe where gay people are forbidden to create associations or clubs, I wanted to know how gay people live their everyday lives.

    Lose the stereotype

    One thing I kept hearing time and again from the people I spoke with was this. Please don't go back home and paint a picture of our country using the old stereotypes of a backward soviet-style country with a mad dictator; our country has a lot more to offer. What may sound remarkable is that despite all the negative things, most people love their country. And overall, I can say it was a very positive experience being there and people generally aren't miserable. They were very happy to see me and happy that there was someone from outside of Belarus talking about their country.

    Hear more about my journey to Belarus on Reality Check on Saturday (June 14th) at 12 midday.

    Reality Check is available as podcast after the show.

    title: Reality Check: Belarus
    length: 19:30
    MP3(18.679MB) | WMA