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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

President considers national budget, Union State, Gazprom, Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant, Prices, Political prisenors, Polish scandal, News and Poetry

  • From the Top...
  • #313

    President meets with Prime Minister to consider 2009 national budget

    From: BelTA
    President receiving credentials from ambassadors last week in Minsk
    On 3 June President Alexander Lukashenko met with Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky to discuss the preparation of the national budget of Belarus for the year 2009.

    The rate of the GDP growth is planned within the range of 10 to 12 per cent; inflation within the range of 9 to 11 per cent.

    Budget revenues are expected to rise by 20 per cent from 2008. Alexander Lukashenko tasked the Government to optimise budget spending in 2009: the spending, according to him, should rise by no more than 10 per cent.

    To boost further the national real production sector, the Government proposes cutting the tax burden on the economy by 1.2 per cent points as against GDP. As a result, companies will have in their possession additional Br 1.4 trillion.

    In his State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian People and the National Assembly in April, Alexander Lukashenko tasked the Government to ensure that an average salary in the government sector in 2010 would amount to $ 700 in equivalent. Navigating by this goal, by the end of 2008 an average salary in the government sector should approximate $ 430, by the end of 2009 $ 550. By the end of 2009 an average salary in the real production sector as a whole nation-wide should reach $ 600-630 in equivalent.

    In 2009 the revenues are expected to increase by 20% over 2008. Alexander Lukashenko instructed the Government to optimise the budget expenditures: they should not increase by more than 10%.
    In 2009 the government is set to reduce the tax burden by 1.2% of GDP. As a result the companies will retain around Br1.4 trillion in their budgets.

    In the State of the Nation Address in April the President of Belarus set the target before the Government to raise the wages to $700 in equivalent by 2010. Proceeding from these parameters, wages in the public sector in Belarus will average $430 by the end of 2008, $550 by the end of 2009. The average wages in the real production sector will be equal to $600-630.

    Alexander Lukashenko also urged to see to it that all social programmes are financed in full in 2009. Pension benefits should be growing at the same pace as wages. The President urged to observe this rule unswervingly. Sergei Sidorsky informed that pensions will be indexed one more time by the end of the year.

    As for the costs of energy imports in 2009, the Government of Belarus estimates that the cost of Russian gas for Belarus will be $140 per one thousand cubic metres. Sergei Sidorsky reminded that Russia postponed the plan to level the domestic and export prices. The Prime Minister informed the Head of State that these issues will be discussed at the next session of the Union State Council of Ministers June 27. The meeting is also expected to consider the integration of the two countries, Union State property, ensuring equal rights of citizens.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Russian Gelendzhik to host conference dedicated to Belarus-Russia Union State construction

    From: BelTA
    The Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State will hold the international research conference dedicated to the development of the Union State in the Russian town of Gelendzhik on June 3-5, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Parliamentary Assembly.

    The main goal of the forum is to develop recommendations to strengthen the Belarusian-Russian integration processes, to identify the prospects of the Union construction. Attending the conference will be deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly, representatives of the Permanent Committee of the Belarus-Russia Union State, ministries and governmental departments of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation, researchers and mass media.

    The conference will include the five sections which will consider the priorities of the foreign policy activity of the Belarus-Russia Union State, the protection of water resources of Belarus and Russia, the interregional cooperation, the information coverage of the Union construction, the parliamentary system of the Belarus-Russia Union State.

    A regular session of the Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State will be held on June 27, Belarusian Prime Minister informed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on June 3.

    The forthcoming session will consider the issues concerning the price for Russian natural gas for Belarus in 2009. The issues regarding the integration of the two countries, Belarus-Russia Union’s property and the exercising of the equal rights of the citizens of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation will be high on session’s agenda as well.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, forming the national budget for 2009 the Belarusian Government expects the price for Russian natural gas to be as high as $140 for 1,000 cubic metres.

    Beltransgaz, Gazprom negotiating gas supply adjustments in forthcoming winter

    From: BelTA
    Beltransgaz and Gazprom are in talks about redistribution of gas allocation in December 2008 and January 2009. If the winter is cold, gas supplies are supposed to increase by 120 million cubic metres and 200 million cubic metres respectively. The information was released by Energy Minister Alexander Ozerets at a session of the Council of Ministers Presidium, which tabled preparations for the national economy operation in the autumn-winter period of 2008 and 2009, on June 3. The session was chaired by Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky.

    It will allow refraining from burning expensive fuel oil in low temperatures (18-20 degrees below zero) and from introducing restrictions for customers in Belarus, he explained. This season underground gas storage facilities will contain 100 million cubic metres of natural gas more than last season, all in all, 760 million cubic metres. In particular, Osipovichi underground storage facility should accumulate 360 million cubic metres, Pribugskoye underground storage facility — 400 million cubic metres.

    Belarus to spend almost Br209bn on natural gas for underground storage in 2008

    In 2008 Br208.98 billion will be allocated to buy natural gas for Belarus’ underground storage facilities, Deputy Economy Minister Anatoly Filonov told a session of the Council of Ministers Presidium, which tabled preparations for the national economy operation in the autumn-winter period of 2008 and 2009. The session was chaired by Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky.

    In 2008 underground gas storage facilities should accumulate at least 760 million cubic metres of natural gas. In particular, Osipovichi underground storage facility should accumulate 360 million cubic metres, Pribugskoye underground storage facility — 400 million cubic metres. Last year the underground storage totalled 660 million cubic metres.

    Anatoly Filonov remarked, the natural gas for the underground storage is bought using OAO Beltransgaz’ own funds and borrowed money. In 2007 Belarus spent Br139.4 billion on buying natural gas for underground storage.

    Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant getting ready to service foreign aircrafts

    From: BelTA
    Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant is getting ready to service foreign aircrafts.

    According to Yuri Chakhovsky, Director General of Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant, the enterprise is the industry’s flagship, it accomplishes all goals and meets contract obligations, assimilates the latest technologies and inventions. In recent years the enterprise has been specialised in repairing and servicing Yak-40 and Tu-134 aircrafts and servicing Yak-42s. In the last six months the enterprise started repairing sports aeroplanes Yak-52.

    The enterprise always masters new business avenues. As not all aircraft enterprises in the ex-USSR are operational, the enterprise had to start manufacturing and restoring spare parts independently. To make it possible, the enterprise has the necessary manufacturing facilities and qualified personnel. Apart from that, the enterprise has been granted a CIS IAC certificate (Interstate Aviation Committee) enabling the enterprise to manufacture aircraft components for proprietary needs and for maintenance units. At present the enterprise manufactures several hundreds of components.

    Technological capabilities are being improved and perfected. Over the last few years the enterprise mastered electroplating, new machining methods, gas dynamic deposition, vacuum moulding. Apart from that the enterprise now can upgrade and refit the interior of airlines taking into account customer’s requirements.

    Among the most important achievements of the enterprise Yuri Chakhovsky named direct participation in manufacturing cooperation schemes with Russia as part of an aircraft construction programme. Since December 2007 the enterprise has been manufacturing over ten titles for Smolensk Aircraft Plant, which makes Yak-18T aircraft. Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant has permanent representations of Tupolev and Yakovlev design bureaux, which provide technical support.

    The company’s cooperation geography is quite vast. Around 90% of orders come from Russia and other CIS states, contracts are signed with Syria, Italy, Slovakia, Poland, which have Yak-40 and Tu-134 aircraft.

    Among promising business avenues the company considers starting servicing foreign-made aircraft, including Boeings, as Belarus has acquired some of them. Vigorously studying foreign practices, Belarusian specialists have visited maintenance centres in Russia, Kyiv, Warsaw, with plans made for a visit to Vilnius. Apart from that, two teams of young professionals have been enrolled. They are studying English and will go abroad for internship later.

    This year the enterprise is turning 55. But the most radical changes in the enterprise operation took place in 2005. New forms and methods for managing the enterprise appeared. As the head enterprise of a newly set-up industry Minsk Aircraft Repairs Plant started implementing new programmes. Repairs of Yak-40, Yak-42, Tu-134, refitting of aircraft became the key business areas in the enterprise’s operation. All in all, since the enterprise’s foundation it has repaired 777 aircraft.

    Belarusian ruble gains 0.8% against US dollar in January-May

    From: BelTA
    In January-May the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar gained 0.8% to total Br2,133 for $1 as of June 3, the information department of the National Bank told BelTA.

    Meanwhile, the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the Russian ruble shrank by 2.5% to make up Br89.82 for RUB1 on June 3.

    In January-May the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the euro shrank by 4.6% to total Br3,312 for €1 as of June 3. The changes in the Belarusian ruble exchange rate in January-May are attributed to external economic factors.

    The monetary management policy of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus will continue aiming at ensuring the stability of the exchange rate with a view to further decrease in the intensity of inflation processes.

    In line with the Major Monetary Management Guidelines of the Republic of Belarus for 2008 the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar may vary by 2.5% as of January 1, 2009 or within Br2,100-2,200 for one US dollar. However, NBRB Chairman of the Board Piotr Prokopovich repeatedly stated that the bank will continue strengthening the national currency aiming to secure the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble at Br2,100 against the US dollar by the end of the year.

    Belarus’ foreign trade up 61.1% in January-April

    In January-April 2008, Belarus’ foreign trade was up 61.1% from the same period of the previous year to $23,048 billion, BelTA learned from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of Belarus.

    Within the four months Belarusian exports surged by 65.3% to $10.863 billion, imports by 57.6% to $12.186 billion. The trade deficit amounted to $1.323 billion (in January-April 2006, the deficit was $1.157 billion).

    Belarus has been increasing trade with the CIS countries. In January-April 2008, Belarus’ trade with the CIS was up by 66.1% to $13.403 billion, exports were up 56.6% to $4.87 billion, imports up 72% to $8.533 billion. Exports from Russia to Belarus amounted to $3.56 billion (up 44.8%), imports from Russia to Belarus made up $7.79 billion (up 74.4%). In January-April, Belarus-Russia trade increased by 64.1% from the same period of the previous year to $11.35 billion.

    In January-April, trade with the non-CIS countries soared by 54.8% to $9.646 billion including exports by 73.1% to $5.993 billion, imports by 31.9% to $3.653 billion.

    Belarus creates conditions clear for civilized business, Sergei Sidorsky says

    Belarus creates conditions clear for the civilized world and business, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky stated after the Advisory Council on Foreign Investments that took place in Minsk on May 30.

    According to him, the economy and its development is not an easy path that has to be tried by the investors in every country. Belarus has set up an ambitious task to enter the list of 30 countries with a good business climate.

    The Advisory Council on Foreign Investments adopted a memorandum. The document provides that in 2008 Belarus will continue strengthening reformations in the property area. The country will develop an efficient financial market, all financial documents, institutes and mechanisms necessary for their functioning.

    The country intends to strengthen interaction with the governments of the foreign states, international financial organizations and foreign corporations.

  • From the International Press...

    Commentary: Selling Belarus's Family Jewels

    From: RFE/RL
    While the system constructed in Belarus over the last decade may not have been the most repressive in the post-Soviet world, it was certainly the most Soviet -- in terms of both the people that run it and the socioeconomic reality.

    It is in Belarus, after all, where a memorial to "Stalin's Line" of fortifications was erected, where the president continues to address compatriots as "comrade," and where the private sector's share of gross domestic product (GDP) is the lowest among the CIS states. Belarus has preserved not only a Soviet-style welfare state, but also Soviet-era attitudes toward private property.

    But things appear to be changing. Mobile-phone operators, factories, banks -- the family jewels of the national economy -- are suddenly up for grabs. Belinvestbank, the country's fourth-largest bank, is being sold to Germany's Commerzbank. Russia is in talks to purchase Belarusian automobile giant MAZ and the Palimir chemical factory. And Turkey is set to buy the mobile-phone company BeST.

    What is going on? The most obvious explanation is pure fiscal expedience. The increase in the price Belarus pays for Russian energy initiated in 2006 left a gaping hole in the Belarusian economy. By 2011, Belarus will pay market rates for Russian gas. Efforts to identify alternative cheap energy sources (Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Iran) have thus far yielded few results, and Europe won't provide economic aid without fundamental political reforms. There is nothing left to do but sell.

    Oligarch Envy

    However, there are other, social motivations for the current spate of sales.

    The Belarusian ruling elite is acutely envious of its counterparts in other post-Soviet states, especially in neighboring Russia and Ukraine. Government officials there -- or, more accurately, the ruling business elites -- tend to be very wealthy individuals. They vacation on the Riviera and educate their children at the Sorbonne and Harvard.

    Their counterparts in Belarus, on the other hand, are forced to be cagey about their relatively meager wealth, which is under constant threat of seizure by the authorities. Pity these martyrs of Belarusian social equality! The Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality of wealth distribution) is comparatively low for Belarus (3-4). By contrast, Poland and Lithuania have a coefficient of 6-7; the United States, 9; and Russia, 13.

    The recent burst of privatization is not only a gold rush for the already powerful, but could herald a fundamental change in the style and substance of Belarus's political system.

    Belarus's president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, long ago abandoned the populist people's avenger persona that brought him to power in 1994. He has long since exchanged that role for one of "leader of the bureaucrats." Privatization may lead to the further consolidation of this role -- in defending Lukashenka, the new Belarusian oligarchs will also be protecting their own wealth.

    This presents Belarus's leader with a few problems. First, exerting control over oligarchs is trickier than controlling cowed subordinates. Second, in the wake of the privatization process, Lukashenka will likely lose the support of his traditional power base -- the common people. Economic circumstances already make it difficult to provide socialist-style subsidies for all, and privatization will only exacerbate that difficulty.

    In the short term, a shift in the power base -- from the broad masses of the poor to the narrow circles of the rich and influential -- might even result in a strengthening of the system. In the long term, however, the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots will undoubtedly lead to corruption and possibly social unrest. In such circumstances, Belarus could rapidly descend on a path similar to the one that led to the demise of the USSR. It was, after all, the corruption of the system under Khrushchev and Brezhnev that augured the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

    EU condemns Belarus probation sentences

    From: Guardian
    The European Union on Tuesday condemned restrictions placed on the freedom of three men who took part in a rally of entrepreneurs in the former Soviet republic of Belarus earlier this year.

    Maxim Dashuk, Pavel Vinogradov and Mikhail Subach were placed under restriction for taking part in the January rally.
    "These politically motivated condemnations constitute a severe violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of these peaceful demonstrators," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.

    "I ask their sentences to be reversed and call upon the Belarussian authorities to respect the rights of Belarussian citizens to assemble and to express themselves."
    The three participants were subjected to a form of probation ranging from 1 1/2 to two years requiring them to keep to a strict daily timetable and report regularly to police.

    Eleven activists had previously been sentenced in connection with protests by entrepreneurs, including market stall holders, denouncing new rules they said limit their right to do business. Two received prison terms of 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 years.

    The commissioner repeated an EU call for the release of all political prisoners and for the authorities to respect the right to assemble and media freedoms.

    She said these steps and the conduct of free and fair parliamentary elections were essential for better relations between Belarus and the European Union, which Brussels wants to ensure stable energy supplies.
    Belarus is a key transit route for oil and gas from Russia.

    The West accuses President Alexander Lukashenko of crushing human rights by jailing opponents, shutting down independent media and rigging polls, including his own re-election to a third term in 2006.

    Both the European Union and the United States have banned Lukashenko and other officials from visiting their countries.
    Late last year, however, Brussels cautiously praised the Belarussian authorities for releasing some jailed activists and for getting police to show restraint at demonstrations.

    The EU has also proposed an aid programme -- provided Belarus introduces democratic change.

    Belarus remains locked in a diplomatic row with the United States over human rights and Washington's imposition of economic sanctions, particularly against oil producer Belneftekhim.

    Speaking to Reuters last month, Lukashenko said he hoped a parliamentary election in September would deliver some seats to the opposition to disarm Western criticism of human rights.

    But he warned the European Union against any move to follow the United States by placing sanctions on oil firms, saying that 50 percent of EU oil and oil products and 30 percent of its gas pass through Belarus.

    Belarus to sell Mezhtorgbank to Russia's Alfa Group

    From: Reuters
    Belarus has agreed to sell its state Mezhtorgbank to the Russian private equity group Alfa, the deputy chairman of Belarus's central bank Nikolai Luzgin said on Friday.

    "A few days ago the president decided to sell Mezhtorgbank to Russia's Alfa Group," Luzgin told a conference.

    Luzgin later told reporters the central bank will sell its 39 percent stake in Mezhtorgbank at "around $12 million."

    Apart from the central bank's stake, Alfa Group's Alfa-Bank, Russia's largest private bank by assets, wants to buy shares from other shareholders, most of which are state enterprises, to bring its share to 90 percent.

    The banking sector in the former Soviet republic of Belarus has been growing rapidly on the back of rising loan demand from corporate and retail customers, but the state remains a dominant player, controlling four out of the five leading lenders.

    Russia's banks present on the Belarus' market include Russia's No. 2 bank VTB VTBq.L, which controls Slavneftebank, as well as state VEB and Gazprom bank, the banking arm of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research), which own BelVnesheconombank and BelGazprombank, respectively.

    Belarus plans to sell control in its two largest state banks and minority shares in several other large banks to foreign investors this year.

  • From the Opposition...

    Valery Shchukin: police torturers on the dock

    From: Viasna
    The first summer month of 2008 in Vitsebsk was marked by an unheard trial (at least for the author of this article). It was the first time for the twelve years of acquaintance with the court instances when I was at a trial which was lead by the head of the court and the state accusation was represented by prosecutor in person.

    2 June Kastrychnitski district court of Vitsebsk started trying the criminal case against two policemen who had beaten a surgeon of an ambulance hospital. These policemen belong to the same regiment, the members of which assaulted the journalist Valery Shchukin from an ambush.

    A minute was enough for Navumau’s officers to be over with the pensioner. Soon I was lying down on the asphalt with a hypertension crisis. They even did not need to beat me, and they would not risk to do it – to assault an army veteran in broad daylight, in the eyes of many people.

    But the surgeon Andrei Drobysh was beaten on 22 December 2006. They beat him long. Kicked with feet. Beat him lying face down, with his hand handcuffed behind the back. They beat him without witnesses in police station #6 in Frunze Street. Specialist with a higher education, who saved people’s lives, was beaten by ignoramuses who have just finished schools. City dweller, father of three children, was tortured by peasants by birth. A soldier of the Soviet army was beaten by an ensign and a sergeant of the Belarusian police. Well-fed mugs beat a thin doctor, ten years older than them. Police officers in uniform humiliated a sober citizen who did not resist. The degree of sobriety of the subordinates of colonel Kalesnik (commandant of the regiment) is not known.

    They beat professionally: the victim struggled for breath and could not cry. They kicked him in the genitals with well-made police shoes. Being asked by the surprised chairman of the court Lamaka, how they could kick him in the perineum when he had been lying with face down the mutilated surgeon answered that one of them moved his legs apart with his shoes, while the second one was kicking in the perineum. The state accuser qualified the inflicted trauma as second-degree.

    The feelings of the medic to the ‘brave’ Belarusian police are clear from his answer to the question of the prosecutor of Chyhunachny district, senior justice advisor Kaminski, who asked whether the victim could recognize his torturers: ‘It is unpleasant for me to look at them’.

    It is really unpleasant and disgusting. The police easily push to pre-trial prisons those who violate the Criminal Code. At the trial the accused are kept in cages and are not allowed to utter a word to their friends and relatives, whereas Makhankou and Shushko, who are accused of excess of powers (part 3 of Article 426 of the Criminal Code) sit in the court hall, surrounded with their comrades-in-arms, hiding their grins.

    Before trial the police keep behind the barbed wire even those who are maximally punished with 15 days of jail, but those who can be sentenced to up to eight years of jail are allowed to walk free.

    The police tortures still work and get state wages…

    Problem of political prisoners in Belarus to be discussed in European Parliament

    From: Charter '97
    Debates on the theme of political situation in European are held in the European Parliament today and tomorrow. The situation in Belarus is also to be discussed in Brussels. In particular, an issue of political prisoners. The Belarusian authorities refused to released prisoners of conscience Alyaksandr Kazulin, Syarhei Parsyukevich and Andrei Kim.

    Leaders of opposition political parties Anatol Lyabedzka, Vintsuk Vyachorka and Syarhei Kalyakin are invited to the session of the European Parliament in Brussels. Leader of the “For Freedom” movement Alyaksandr Milinkevich was to come to Brussels, too, but deputy head of the movement Alyaksei Kravets came instead of him.

    Leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka, who is restricted to leave Belarus, flew to Brussels through Moscow. According to him, EP president Hans-Gert Poettering and his assistants are to take part in the debates.

    According to the politician, the Belarusian opposition figures are going to discuss an issue of political prisoners in Belarus. It should be reminded that the president of the European Parliament has recently made a statement urging the Belarusian authorities to release immediately all prisoners of conscience.

    Alyaksandr Kazulin, former candidate for presidency in Belarus, entrepreneurs’ leader Syarhei Parsyukevich, and youth activist Andrei Kim are still in Belarusian prisons. Kazulin was arrested for organising of mass actions of protest against rigging the presidential elections results in 2006, Parsyukevich and Kim - for participating in protest actions of entrepreneurs in the beginning of 2008.

    Opposition youth in Salihorsk kicked out of school

    From: Naveny
    Opposition youth Ivan Shyla has been expelled from the number four general education school in Salihorsk, Minsk region, just ahead of his final graduation exam.

    The decision was made by officials of the local department of the education ministry and the Minsk Regional Executive Committee, said the press office of the Malady Front opposition youth organization of which Mr. Shyla is an activist.

    The cited reason was that the youth regularly violated the school's internal rules that reportedly prohibit students from participating in unsanctioned demonstrations.

    The decision met opposition from the school administration, with the headmaster filing a resignation letter and her deputy in charge of educational work dismissed against her will, the press office said.

    The other deputies were allegedly ordered to present a list indicating Mr. Shyla's teachers, their spouses and the place of employment of the latter.

  • Around the region...

    Gazprom supply squeeze on Ukraine, Belarus was 'no ill will'

    From: Monsters and Critics
    Russian gas supplier Gazprom on Tuesday cited a lack of democratic structures, political instability and reneging on contracts as reasons for putting the squeeze on former Soviet republics Belarus and Ukraine.

    'Gazprom's decisions had no ill-will,' the company's deputy chairman, Valery Golubev, told a group of regional business leaders at the Baltic region forum in the Latvian capital, Riga.

    Averting a threat of cutting supplies to the rest of Europe, Gazprom and Ukraine's government agreed in March to eliminate intermediate companies, some of which have been accused of funnelling proceeds to organized crime syndicates.

    Gazprom's decision to cut off supplies to Ukraine in 2005 because of disagreements between Kiev and Moscow spiralled into a fear that Russia may use its economic foothold in the region to advance its political goals.

    The fear was especially felt in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which would have to rely on Russia for energy after the only existing nuclear power plant shuts down at the end of 2009.

    However Gazprom has not cut off supplies to the Baltic states in 18 years since their independence from the Soviet Union, Golubev said.

    Belarus paid its bills with Gazprom last August after the Russian gas monopolist threatened to reduce deliveries because Minsk fell behind on payments for the last six months of gas.

    A late 2005 disagreement between Moscow and Kiev on gas sold to Ukraine halted the flow, spiking prices as far away as France. Gazprom temporarily cut off supplies to Ukraine again last month, during the latest round of price negotiations.

    Gazprom, the world's third largest corporation accounting for roughly 3 per cent of Russia's gross domestic product (GDP), sells some 150 billion cubic metres of natural gas to European consumers each year.

    The business, in today's market of rocketing energy prices, is worth as much as 45 billion dollars every twelve months to the Kremlin.

    Nato warns Russia over Abkhazia

    From: BBC
    Nato's secretary general has demanded that Russia withdraw troops it sent to the disputed breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia last week.

    Jaap de Hoop Scheffer accused Russia of breaching Georgia's sovereignty by sending in military railway personnel.

    Mr de Hoop Scheffer said the Russian move was "contributing to instability in what is already a volatile area".

    Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in a war in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

    Russia announced on Saturday that it was sending 300 members of an unarmed unit from the army's railway force to the province to help carry out repairs on the network, labelling the move a humanitarian effort.

    Georgia responded that Russia is planning a military intervention in the province.

    Nato aspirations

    "These forces should be withdrawn, and both Russia and Georgia should engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de-escalate tensions," Mr de Hoop Scheffer said.

    Georgia, which hopes to join Nato, has accused Russia of propping up separatists in the region with a peacekeeping force.

    Tensions have been high since Moscow announced in April that it was establishing formal ties with the separatists.

    Adding to those tensions is the release of a UN report that said Russia shot down a Georgian drone.

    Russian authorities insisted the plane was shot down over Abkhazia by Abkhaz rebels.

    Russia has kept a peacekeeping force in the province and South Ossetia under an agreement made following wars in the 1990s, when the regions broke away from Georgia and formed links with Moscow.

    There are around 2,000 Russians posted in Abkhazia, and about 1,000 in South Ossetia.

    Many in Abkhazia believe that Kosovo's announcement of independence from Serbia in February provides a precedent for it to be recognised as an individual state.

    Although the province has its own flag and postage stamps, it is not internationally recognised.

    Ukraine leader vetoes anti-inflation price controls

    From: Guardian
    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Tuesday vetoed a law imposing price controls on staples which the government had championed to curb record inflation.

    Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his on-again, off-again ally, meanwhile said efforts to reduce price rises had borne fruit and predicted inflation would begin to come down this month.
    Yushchenko, at odds with the prime minister on a wide range of issues, struck down a law capping mark-ups on prices of key food products including flour, bread, meat and vegetables at 15 percent.

    He said the law was at variance with Ukraine's constitution and civil code, hurt competition and "violated the right of owners of goods to deal with them as they see fit. Practically all sections of the law give rise to objections."
    Government officials had lobbied for the law on the grounds that high rates of inflation were linked to unjustified price increases on food, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the consumer price index (CPI) basket.

    Analysts have said price rises are also linked to large social payments overseen by Tymoshenko and her government.
    Yushchenko last week issued the latest in a series of appeals to the government to take steps to rein in inflation.

    Year-on-year inflation hit 30.2 percent in April and cumulative price rises over the first four months of the year have reached 13.1 percent -- exceeding the government's forecast of 9.6 percent for the entire year.

    No new government inflation forecast has been issued.

    Tymoshenko, speaking after meeting regional officials, said she believed the month-on-month inflation figure to be issued for May would be "close to the minimum".

    Her press service quoted Tymoshenko as saying that data compiled from the regions showed consumer prices had even fallen in May in six of Ukraine's 27 regions. She pledged to bring down the figure in the remaining areas.

    She gave no forecast for May month-on-month inflation.

    Yushchenko last week predicted the figure would slow to 1.0 percent in May from 3.1 percent in April. The head of Ukraine's central bank forecast a figure of 1.5 to 2.0 percent and analysts surveyed by Reuters on Monday expected 2.1 percent.

    Rising killings of Africans in Ukraine raises concerns

    From: Afrik
    The UN refugee agency on Tuesday joined over 30 other organisations in condemning the recent murder of a Nigerian national in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, the latest in a series of attacks against foreigners in the country.

    "The victim, who was known to UNHCR after approaching the agency’s office in Kiev two years ago seeking legal assistance, was found on the evening of May 29 in the Solomenskiy district of the city suffering from numerous knife wounds," UNHCR spokesperson, Jennifer Pagonis, told journalists in Geneva, Switzerland.

    A statement made Wednesday quoted the police as saying the motive for the fatal attack was unknown.

    UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and some 30 other groups belonging to the Diversity Initiative human rights coalition have urged Ukrainian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation of the killing.

    They also want the police to establish if the killing was racially motivated. "Over the past two years, human rights groups have reported an increasing number of violent attacks on foreigners and non-Ukrainians in Kiev and elsewhere in the country", said the agency.

    UNHCR and IOM have repeatedly expressed concern over unprovoked attacks, beatings and verbal abuse aimed at asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, foreigners and minorities in Ukraine.

    Pagonis noted that according to anecdotal evidence collected by the Diversity Initiative from victims, media sources and non-governmental organisations, there had been at least 40 such attacks so far this year, including four murders.

    In January, a 19-year-old asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was found stabbed to death, and in March, a 39-year-old Sierra Leonean asylum seeker was also stabbed to death.

    This is a matter of great concern to Africa as it comes hardly two weeks after rampaging South Africans unleashed terror on African migrants, whom they accused of taking up jobs at the expense of the locals.

    Ukraine started implementing its first refugee law in 1996. Since then, some 5,459 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status. At the beginning of this year, 2,277 refugees were living in Ukraine.

    Just over half, 51 percent, of recognised refugees originate from Afghanistan, 29 percent from the former Soviet Union republics and 13 percent from Africa.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Health minister dismissal will not slow reforms

    From: The News
    Minister of health, Ewa Kopacz, assured today that the dismissal of her deputy Krzysztof Grzegorek on Monday due to corruption charges will not slow down or stop the preparations of the health service reform bill.

    At a press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday, Kopacz said that she is determined to continue to work on the reform bill; the ministry is planning to announce the range of benefits covered by national health insurance on Thursday.

    Minister Kopacz also said that until a new deputy minister of health is appointed, she will take over the duties performed by Grzegorek. She is to appeal to the PM to appoint a new deputy later this week.

    Kopacz assured that she did not know that Krzysztof Grzegorek might be in conflict with the law. She stressed that fighting corruption in health service is one of her main goals as health minister.

    Krzysztof Grzegorek resigned after media accused him of taking a bribe while he was the head of one of the wards in a hospital in Skarzysko-Kamienna, southern Poland. Grzegorek said that the accusations are unfounded and denied taking any bribes, but decided to resign nevertheless. His resignation was accepted on Tuesday.

    Ziobro opposes amendments to 24-hour courts

    From: Polski Radio
    Former Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro considers the intended amendments to the law on 24-hour courts detrimental to the Polish judiciary.

    Former minister of justice in the previous Law and Justice (PiS) government, now the biggest opposition party, reminded that 24-hour courts are the main tool of fighting the rampant plague of drunk-driving and football hooligans.

    He added that sentences passed by these courts - directly after a crime was committed - are a just and effective punishment, as evidenced in the Polish statistics, in which the number of drunk drivers fell markedly after 24-hour courts were introduced.

    State Prosecutor Marek Staszak said in a radio interview that what is planned is an overhaul of these courts, not a scheme which does away with them entirely. The amendments are intended to cut the operating costs up to 25-30 million zlotys a year.

    The amendments include replacing obligatory defense with the optional type, which means that a defendant will be allowed to resign from being defended if they plead guilty right at the start of the proceedings, and abolishing obligatory detainment, save hooligans.

    Staszak concluded in saying that there is no reason to keep a person in temporary detention if they agreed to serve the sentence.

    The law on 24-hour courts and came into power 12 March 2007 and were intended to deal with petty crime. If a perpetrator of a criminal act liable to a sentence of not more than 5 years of imprisonment, including hooligan deeds was caught red-handed and passed over to a court in less than 48 hours from the time of detainment the case is heard before a 24-hour court which can pass an imprisonment sentence of not more than two years within 24 hours.

    Controversial priest closes down institute

    From: Tyhe News
    Father Henryk Jankowski, a controversial priest from Gdansk, is to close down his institute.

    According to Dziennik, the decision was made after pressure from the new metropolitan bishop of Gdansk, Slawoj Leszek Glodz, who forced Jankowski to do so after scandals connected to the institution.

    Head of the Father Henryk Jankowski Institute, Ryszard Walczak, confirmed that Father Jankowski has decided to withdraw his patronage from the institution, which is to be closed down by August.

    According to the daily, the Metropolitan Bishop Glodz became fed up with the ‘immoral conduct’ of the young employees of the institute. The allegations are connected to the previous head of the institution, the 26-year-old Mariusz Olchowik.

    After some initial success with launching the Jankowski brand of mineral water, Olchowik became entangled in economic failures and scandals. Media reported that some employees of the institute allegedly frequented expensive brothels.

    Father Henryk Jankowski was one of the leading priests supporting the Solidarity movement and fighting against communism in the 80s. Afterwards he became infamous for his frequent anti-Semitic remarks, critiques of the European Union and scandals involving alleged sexual molestation of young altar boys, although no proof of harassment was found during the investigation.

    Jankowski has been involved in many financial initiatives, including launching brands of mineral water and other products the jankowski name prominent on the label. He also launched a wine with his image on the label and had plans for a vodka brand. A chain of cafes was also in the planning.

    Although criticized by a large part of the Polish society, father jankowski still has numerous loyal supporters.

  • Sport...

    Belarus denied by late drama

    From: Setanta
    Finland and Belarus played out a dramatic 1-1 draw in Turku on Monday night.

    Belarus, who will form part of England’s World Cup 2010 qualifying group, appeared to have won it when Igor Shitov put them ahead in injury time.

    However, Toni Kallio then grabbed an unbelievable equaliser to send the home fans away happy.

    The result leaves Finland coach Stuart Baxter still looking for his first victory since taking over in January.

    For Belarus, Monday’s draw builds on their recent impressive 2-2 draw in Germany.

    Neither side will play at Euro 2008.

  • Cultural scene...

    Belarus Free Theatre performs in Paris

    From: Charter '97
    Belarus Free Theatre has begun a tour in the French capital. The theatre will show its famous performance Generation Jeans about struggle of the Belarusian youth for freedom.

    The Free Theatre has been showing its performances on the stage of Paris Teatre Studio Alfortville for the third year. This time the Belarusian theatre will perform Generation Jeans.

    The Free Theatre met serious changes ahead of the tour. Prominent French stage director Ariane Mnouchkine has become a forth patron of the theatre. A programme of cooperation between the Free Theatre and Paris Th??tre du Soleil, she works for, has already been drawn up. Master-classes of Th??tre du Soleil starring actors are planned to be organised in Minsk this year.

    Ariane Mnouchkine said it was a great honour for her to be chosen for a guardian council of Belarus Free Theatre. It should be reminded, that famous British playwrights Tom Stoppard and Mark Ravenhill, as well as former Czech President and playwright Vaclav Havel were included into the guardian council earlier.

    “These tours have become traditional for us, and we hope our new contacts with French culture figures will give us an opportunity to perform on the most prestigious stages of Paris. The fact that Ariane Mnouchkine has become a member of the guardian council is greatest honour for us, as she is one of legendary theatre figures of the world. By the way, Ariane Mnouchkine was the first winner of the European Theatre Prize, the Free Theatre has won this year. We plan to return to Minsk in the middle of June to continue work on our two new performances,” Mikalai Khalezin, head of the Free Theatre, told in an interview to the Charter’97 press center.

  • Endnote...

    В объятьях невидимого Бога

    From: Давид Альт
    Если будет любовь земная,
    То не будет любви небесной.

    Если вместе собьется стая,
    Не парить одному над бездной.

    Я люблю тебя, переулок
    Моей жизни, клубок вопросов.

    То ли тень по нему скользнула,
    То ли он с этой тенью сросся.

    Невозможно с Тобой расстаться
    И любить Тебя тоже сложно,

    Ты, - источник электростанций
    И свеча в изголовье ложа.

    Куст горящий, волна в стакане,
    Гиацинт, под окном расцветший,

    Кто вы,- духи воспоминаний
    Или юности, вновь пришедшей.

    Образ к образу, чувство к чувству
    Ищем мы новизны в прозренье.

    Я искал Тебя и в искусстве
    И в потерянном поколенье.

    Злоумышленник я не скрою
    От Тебя все свои причины –

    Я хотел быть не чтоб героем,
    Но с душой и взглядом мужчины.

    Что я делаю, как живу я –
    Непонятно, несообразно –

    Днем пустую и торжествую,
    Ночью каюсь в пылу соблазна.

    Я хотел не любви и чуда,
    Но двух пристальных взглядов в братстве.

    Только все Ты придумал мудро,
    И не мне здесь с Тобой тягаться.

    Я хотел не того чтоб счастья
    «Не того чтобы» и имею.

    Взгляд растерянный для контраста
    Смеху и утвержденьям – «верю».

    Для острастки – твердая поступь,
    Острие ума и насмешки.

    «Код не принят. Отказан доступ»-
    Выбирай по зубам орешки.

    Взгляд растерянный, смех растений
    В странном сговоре почвы с небом.

    Что имеем, того не ценим,
    Потерям, - кричим – победа.

    Песня солнца, травы намеки,
    Все еще в предвкушенье чуда.

    Непонятны Твои уроки
    И прекрасны они оттуда.