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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chavez visites Belarus, Harvest campaign, Parliamentary elections, Illegal migrants, Gazprom, S&P, Russia, Ukraine, Polish corruption and much more...

  • From the Top...
  • #328

    Hugo Chavez visites Belarus

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    On July 23, Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko conferred an Order of the People’s Friendship on President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez
    Earlier this week, President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez visited Belarus. Hugo Chavez thanked the President of Belarus for the warm welcome he received in Minsk. “Every time I come to Minsk, I feel calm and peace, the feeling of friendship,” said the Venezuelan leader. He said the visit of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to Venezuela in 2007 is unforgettable.

    Chavez also assured the President of Belarus of his friendly attitude towards the Belarusian nation. “I am thankful for the warm welcome. It would be unthinkable for us to bypass Minsk and fail to confirm the deep feeling of friendship with your heroic nation we know everything about, with our friends. We would also like to use the opportunity to check how the fulfilment of previously reached agreements progresses and how fast joint projects are implemented,” stressed Hugo Chavez.

    The President of Venezuela also delivered greetings of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Alexander Lukashenko.

    Developing all-round relations with Venezuela is one of Belarus’ foreign policy priorities, President says

    "Developing all-round relations with Venezuela is one of the priorities of Belarus’ foreign policy," President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at the talks.

    “Your decision to visit Belarus on a working visit shows that there is a real interest to develop the strategic alliance between our countries. The high level of interstate political dialogue is coupled with the painstaking work to create a reliable economic foundation of bilateral relations, this is what we have just talked about during our one-on-one meeting,” the Belarusian President said.

    Belarus has a special warm feeling to the people of Venezuela and follows with respect how Venezuela’s prestige has been increasing in the Latin-American region and in the international arena on the whole.

    According to the President of Belarus, a lot has been done in the bilateral relations over a short period of time. “But we need to do much more to strengthen all-round interstate links,” he said.

    Alexander Lukashenko added that owing to this visit of Hugo Chavez to Minsk the heads of state got an opportunity to check the implementation of the joint projects and decision and if necessary to adjust them.

    Alexander Lukashenko, Hugo Chavez discuss energy cooperation

    Belarus and Venezuela intend to strengthen energy cooperation and develop projects pursued by the joint venture Petrolera BeloVenesolana. This decision of the two presidents was fixed in a joint communique after a meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez in Minsk.

    The talks once again showed that Belarus and Venezuela have common views on the ways of settling the problems and challenges the two countries encounter in their work to create a multipolar world based on such principles as solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect.

    The communique notes that the two sides, in a friendly and sincere atmosphere, exchanged opinion on a wide range of international problems and discussed the issues of mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The presidents turned special attention to the issues of energy, financial and food crises which threaten stability and development of the nations.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez praised the efforts of the governments to protect the sovereignty and social justice for the benefit of the people.

    The two sides expressed unanimous consent that the interference in the internal affairs of the states, imposing socio-political models and double-standard policy threaten the security of any nation.

    In this respect the heads of state noted that social justice depends on multipolarity and recognition of the right of the people to choose a socio-political system. Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez underlined the necessity to respect national sovereignty, ban using force or a threat of force aimed against territorial integrity, and noninterference in the internal affairs of a state.

    Venezuela President: American empire continues its fail

    President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez is convinced that hegemonistic aspirations of imperialism have failed.

    “The world today is changing fast and moving on. Fortunately, hegemonistic aspirations of imperialism have failed. The American empire continues its fail opposite to the arising world our friend Medvedev (the President of Russia) calls polycentric,” Hugo Chavez stressed during extended talks with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.

    Hugo Chavez awarded Order of People’s Friendship

    On July 23, Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko conferred an Order of the People’s Friendship on President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.

    According to the Belarusian leader, this award is a token of recognition by Belarus of special services of the President of Venezuela in strengthening the friendly relations between the two states. The award ceremony was held in the Simon Bolivar Park in Minsk.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez laid flowers at the memorial plaque in honour of the national hero of Venezuela.

    The Belarusian leader said that today Belarus has been implementing large-scale multi-billion projects in Venezuela, from oil production to construction of new modern plants. The President of Belarus took note of a big personal contribution of Hugo Chavez in these projects.

    “Belarusians know well about such faraway but close for us country as Venezuela,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He thanked the President of Venezuela for inviting Belarusian specialists to take part in the implementation of the plans on ensuring the independence of the Bolivarian Republic.

    The President of Belarus also informed that a decision was taken to replace the memorial plaque with a Simon Bolivar bust on plinth. The Belarusian side will welcome the participation of a Venezuelan sculptor in creating a monument to Simon Bolivar whose 225th anniversary of birth will be celebrated on July 24.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    President urges to start mass harvest campaign

    From: BelTA
    A mass harvest campaign should be launched in all regions of the country tomorrow, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said after being given an update on the progress in the rural revival programme 2005-2010 by the Brest oblast executive committee.

    “Time is pressing. The crops have started ripening fast. It would be equal to a crime to fail to begin harvesting tomorrow. All equipment should be working in the fields tomorrow,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that there are some problems with grain crop harvesting. Lodged crops account for 25% on average countrywide. Yet the companies have the equipment that can gather the crops.

    The success in the development of agricultural companies in many things depends on the level of management, the President said. Alexander Lukashenko tasked the head of the Presidential Administration to look into how the process of selecting candidates for senior positions was organised. “In the near future we will check and assess the work of every seniour official,” the head of state said.

    Lukashenko warns against harvesting mismanagement

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has warned local authorities that they will be held responsible for poor harvesting and delayed sowing. The head of state is on a working visit to the Kamenets region of the Brest oblast on July 24.

    According to the Belarusian President, the mismanagement of harvesting and sowing campaigns is deemed a crime.

    “At the end of last year I said that this year I will not tell anyone what to do, so those who fail to fulfill commissions will no longer hold their positions. The supervision over the quality of harvesting is our top priority. It would be a crime to waste crops when the global food crisis has caused the shortage of crops all over the world,” the head of state said.

    The President underlined that this year all the crops should be harvested without a loss. “Every grain should be picked up. The careless approach to harvesting when the quantity prevails over quality will not be tolerated,” Alexander Lukashenko noted.

    The President was told that the available machinery can harvest even lodged crops.

    The Belarusian head of state drew everybody’s attention to the fact that the land under the crops should be cleared and prepared in time to start the sowing of new crops.

    Today the prices for grain crops are exorbitantly high. We have to buy some amount of crops anyways but we do not have extra money to afford to fail the harvesting campaign, the head of state concluded.

    Belarus may set up major food exporting company by late 2008

    A food company may be set up in Belarus by late 2008 to export agricultural products. The possibility was touched upon during a working trip of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to the Kamenets region on July 25.

    The President visited an exhibition of products made by leading companies of the Brest oblast. Talking to the President heads of processing companies discussed the problems they encounter exporting Belarusian goods to Russia. They believe many difficulties could be avoided through joint work by creating a kind of a holding company.

    “You should present this food company to me in December,” noted Alexander Lukashenko in his talk with the manufacturers.

    While in the Kamenets region the President urged executives to do their best to change administration approaches fast.

    Belarus can double farm products export, President says

    The export of Belarusian farm products can be doubled, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he heard out a report of the Brest oblast administration concerning the progress in fulfilling the 2005-2010 State Rural Revival and Development Programme.

    In his words, in 2007 Belarus exported over $2 billion worth of farm products.

    The head of state underscored, the adoption of the State Rural Revival and Development Programme was a timely and correct act. “Nowadays we have a clearer understanding of the importance and good timing of the programme. We had to save villages enforcing modern technologies in ultramodern enterprises and creating proper living standards for residents,” said the President.

    In his words, at present in view of the global food market crisis Belarus can ensure its own food security and earn good money. As an example the President cited UN forecasts, which expect that 17 million people may die of hunger next year.

    The head of state remarked, now it is necessary to access the effectiveness of the fulfilment of this most important national investment project and use the Brest oblast as an example to sum up results achieved over the last three years. It is necessary to define what has not been done and to address reasons behind the shortcomings, take measures to secure and overdo goals of the state programme, and specify tactics and future tasks.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored, the practice of receiving such reports will be continued in other oblasts of the country.

    Harvesting campaign in Belarus should be completed by August 20-25, President says

    The harvesting campaign in Belarus should be completed in the southern regions by August 20 and in the northern regions by August 25. The task was set forth by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he heard out a report of the Brest oblast administration concerning the progress in fulfilling the State Rural Revival Programme 2005-2010.

    “Any stalling would cause irreversible consequences,” the Head of State said.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out the necessity to seek for alternative approaches in agricultural management. It is imperative to pay attention to the application of new technologies in grain, vegetable and fodder storage.

    The President cited the agricultural company Belovezhskoye as a good example of agricultural management. The Belarusian leader examined the company’s facilities and praised wise and efficient labour organization.

    According to the Head of State, the company has reached that level of development of the social area and production other agricultural companies should work for to achieve. For a short period of time the company has been taken out from the poverty and turned to one of the best in the country. Still, the President advised against pursuing exterior gloss and wasting chunks of money to set up objects no one need. “Develop agro-towns without destroying the village,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    700 international observers to watch parliamentary elections in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    700 international observers will arrive in Belarus to watch the parliamentary elections, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina said during an online conference on BelTA’s website on July 24.

    She specified, two monitoring missions had been invited already — the OSCE and the CIS. The OSCE mission will include around 350 people, with 50 people named as long-term observers and 300 short-term ones, who will arrive on the eve of the elections. The CIS mission will have roughly the same amount. “We expect around 700 people all in all,” said the CEC head.

    The OSCE observers will arrive in Belarus on August 11-12. The CIS mission will start working on July 29. “On that day I plan to present international observer certificate No 1 to Sergei Lebedev, head of the CIS mission,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

    She remarked, there are very many local national observers in Belarus. National observers can be sent by political parties, public associations of all levels. The central administration of a party can nominate observers for the entire country while local divisions can nominate observers to the polling station they are located in, specified the CEC head. Apart from that, observers can be nominated by electors and labour collectives. The number of national observers also includes authorized representatives of candidates: every candidate has 15 authorized representatives.

    Deputies can observe as well. Parliament deputies can observe elections in any constituency while deputies of a local council of deputies can observe election in the territory of their council.

    All in all, a large number of people can observe the elections. “The Republic of Belarus ranks first in the number of subjects able to send observers,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

    Two Minsk election constituencies to accommodate voters outside Belarus

    All the voters, who are outside Belarus, will be accommodated by two election constituencies in Minsk, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina said during an online conference on the website of Belarusian news agency BelTA on July 24.

    One of them is the Kupalovsky election constituency, where the Foreign Ministry is located. The second one has not been assigned so far. “It is too early to do it as we don’t know the precise number of polling stations abroad. But most likely it will be the Svislochsky election constituency,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

    Voters outside Belarus will be able to vote for the candidates running in the two election constituencies. By the time the constituencies are formed, information about them will be handed over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then the Central Election Committee will assign polling stations to the election constituencies, said the official.

    Drastic reduction of illegal migrants’ inflow to Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The inflow of illegal migrants to Belarus has been drastically reduced thanks to measures taken in line with several international agreements, Gennady Bubnovich, Deputy Head of the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Belarusian Interior Ministry, said before a session of an expert group in charge of polishing a draft 2009-2011 CIS Illegal Migration Counteraction Programme in Minsk on July 23.

    He also added, Belarus’ cooperation with CIS states in the fight against illegal migration is excellent as information is shared with the countries illegal migrants come from and pass through.

    The previous meeting of the expert group took place on May 28-29. The document was worked out and sent to member-states for agreeing with interested ministries and agencies. According to Sergei Tretyakov, Deputy Director of the First CIS States Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, no serious remarks about the draft programme were received from the states in the first reading.

    The programme is meant to further improve the cooperation of the CIS member-states in the fight against illegal migration. The draft programme provides for joint interagency prevention and search measures as well as special operations and organisational measures, personnel training, law-making for counteracting illegal migration. The number of the measures also includes the introduction of new biometric passports.

    Sergei Tretyakov remarked, the countries are interested in introducing biometric passports, but everything depends on how well the technologies work, how long they can be used.

    Volunteers from 7 countries to partake in biking tour to support ecotourism in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Volunteers from seven countries will take part in the international biking tour titled “Tour of solidarity with Belarus” that will be held along ecological corridors and green routes of Belarus in August, BelTA learnt from the public association “Agro- and ecotourism.”

    Volunteers from Poland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain and Great Britain accompanied by Belarusian biking amateurs will cover 900 kilometers crossing Belarus from the south-west to the north-east. They will pass by most beautiful land of the Brest, Grodno, Minsk and Vitebsk oblasts. The route of the tour goes along the so-called ecological corridors – the zones of animal migration and concentration of biological diversity. The bikers will visit conservation areas, Belarusian agrotourist mansions, historical monuments; they will also take part in special events organized for them.

    A cuisine festival “Motalskie prysmaki” will be one of such events. It will be held in the village of Motol (the Brest oblast) on August 10. The guests will try famous Motol wedding round loafs and choose the best dish prepared by local women. Apart from that, they will have an opportunity to see the house where the first president of Israel was born.

    The goal of the project is to promote agro- and ecotourism, draw the attention to this kind of tourism, let the local population and tourists derive benefits from it, establish contacts between local population and visitors, reduce the negative impact of tourism on the environment.

    Narochansky National Park to establish cooperation with Northern Vosges Biosphere Reserve

    In a related story, The Narochansky National park intends to establish cooperation in environmental protection with the Northern Vosges Biosphere Reserve (France).

    Head of the tourism department of the Narochansky National park Alexei Shapetko told BelTA that in September 2008, a French delegation will visit the Narochansky National park to get familiar with its flora and fauna. In the course of the visit, the sides will discuss a possibility to carry out joint scientific projects in the ecotourism. “In particular, we would like to study the experience of French biologists in reducing anthropogenic load on the ecosystems of the Northern Vosges Biosphere Reserve. After all, this is a topical issue for our national park as well,” he said.

    Anthropogenic factors negatively affect the flora and fauna of the Narochansky National park; they cause the depletion in numbers of some species of animals and plants. “We are constantly taking measures to reduce the anthropogenic load, to preserve rare and endangered species,” Alexei Shapetko said. “The foreign experience will help raise the efficiency of this work.”

    He also noted that a dendrological garden is to be finished in the Narochansky park very soon – the main objects of its infrastructure have already been built. The collection of the garden includes more than 300 plants from different climatic zones brought from the central botanical gardens of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The plants will be represented in five expositions. The visitors will be able to get familiar with the species from Siberia, America, the Far East, Central Europe and Australia.

    The Museum of Nature will be set up in the dendrological garden. It will introduce the guests of the park to the biological diversity of the reserve. The exposition will feature the information on the forests situated on the territory of the park. The dendrological garden and the museum are to open for tourists by the end of 2008.

    The Narochansky National park is situated on the territory of the Minsk, Vitebsk and Grodno oblasts. Its total area is 97.3 thousand hectares.

    Mammoth remains unearthed at construction site in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    Mammoth remains were discovered at a construction site in Mashinostroitelei Street in Minsk, BelTA learnt from Alexander Medvedev, the chief of the medieval architecture sector of the History Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    The remains of tusks, teeth and skeleton of a mammoth were discovered at a depth of 4-7 metres. According to preliminary data, the mammoth was three or four years old and is thought to have died 20,000-40,000 years ago. “We will thoroughly examine the remains to identify the exact age of the mammoth. This information will prove useful for learning more about the migration routes of mammoths in Belarus," A;exander Medvedev said.

    On July 24, the History Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus will send the mammoth remains to the Belarusian State University for further study.

  • Economics...

    Investors show interest in Belarusian agriculture, Ivan Bambiza

    From: BelTA
    Investors show great interest in the Belarusian agricultural industry, Vice-Premier Ivan Bambiza stated at the report of the Brest oblast administration to the President of Belarus concerning the progress in fulfilling the Rural Revival Programme 2005-2010.

    “Almost every rural settlement of Belarus is favourable for business owing mainly to the recently adopted relevant documents,” the Vice-Premier said.

    According to him, investors have put Br1.3 trillion in the agricultural production for the last three years. This year, the amount of investments has totaled Br161 billion. Belarusian rural territories are highly rated in the investment attractiveness and have practically turned to the free economic zones. The government reasons that nearly Br9 trillion of borrowed funds including bank loans can be put in the Belarusian village development. Yet, only Br3 trillion have been attracted, Ivan Bambiza noted.

    He underlined that in the near future the state rural revival programme should focus efforts on increasing production of high protein fodder, creation of a powerful processing industry, large-scale upgrading of cattle-breeding facilities.

    Ivan Bambiza also noted that all the financial issues related to the village revival programme implementation have been settled.

    The Vice-Premier addressed the Head of State with a request to allocate additional funds to complete the development of the social area in some agro-towns. “Proceeding from the approved projects 2005-2007, the works uncompleted at the objects of the social and engineer-transport infrastructure of the agro-towns stand at the level of Br177 billion. The government asks to consider the issue on allotting Br155 billion for these purposes,” he explained.

    In January-May, Belarusian agricultural exports up 61.2%

    The exports of the companies subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs were up 61.2% from the same period last year to $636.4 million (the projection is 17%), BelTA learnt from Yakov Pustoshilo, the chief of the foreign economic department of the ministry.

    Exports increased across all groups of farm produce but for rawhide and flax fibres. Export of pork and beef was up 2.5 and 1.7 times respectively, poultry 1.6 times, sausages 1.5 times, vegetables 1.4 times, butter 1.2 times, casein 1.1 times.

    Dairy and meat products account for 60.7% and 27% respectively of the total agricultural exports.

    Russia remains the major foreign trade partner of the companies surbodinate to the Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs. For the past five months this year, exports to Russia were up 84% over the same period last year to $588.2 million. The share of exports to Russia increased by 11.3% to 92.4% of the Belarusian agricultural exports. Belarus had a surplus in trade with Russia to the tune of $454.7 million.

    The companies of the Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs sold their products to 65 Russian regions as against 58 in January-May last year. Moscow accounted for 35.3% of the total export to the Russian Federation. The Russian capital was followed by the Moscow region (export was up 2.1 times), St. Petersburg 13.8% (up 1.8 times), Smolensk region 5.2% (up 1.3 times), Nizhny Novgorod 4% (up 2.8 times), Bryansk 3.2% (up 1.6 times), Kaliningrad 1.6% (up 2.7 times).

    Gomel oblast leading in grain crop harvesting campaign

    A mass grain crop harvesting campaign is under way in the southern regions of Belarus, BelTA learnt from the main plant growing department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs. According to specialists, the Gomel oblast has cropped 15.2% of the areas under grain crops, Brest oblast 6.4%. The Grodno and Minsk oblasts have harvested around 1%. The field works in the northern Vitebsk and Mogilev oblasts will start in early August. In general, the campaign has been slow as grain is still moist and unripe.

    Nevertheless, sample harvesting showed that the yield is 274, 000 tonnes averaging 32.8 centners per hectare. Last year the yield was 29.7 centners per hectare. More than 6,000 tonnes of grain has already been supplied for the state needs, or 0,6% of the plan.

    The highest yield is in the Grodno oblast - around 45 centners per hectare. The yield in the Brest oblast is also higher than countrywide - more than 36.4 centners per hectare.

    Some 66% of the areas under winter rape, or 170,000 hectares, have been harvested. The Gomel oblast has cropped 89%, Brest oblast 85%, Grodno 81.3%. The Minsk and Mogilev oblast have also crossed the 50% threshold. It is only the Vitebsk oblast that is lagging with its 38%. The gross rape yield makes up 385,600 tonnes. The yield is 5 centners higher than last year and is at 22.7 centners per hectare. The yield in the Grodno oblast makes up 28 centners per hectare.

    According to specialists, this year the conditions are more favourable for flax. Soil moisture is sufficient. The flax has been pulled on the area of 7,600 hectares, which accounts for 5% of the total area under flax. The Gomel and Brest oblast are leading in the flax harvesting campaign rate.

  • From the International Press...

    Gazprom confirms that Belarus owes nothing to it

    From: Naveny
    Gazprom confirmed to BelaPAN on Friday that AAT Beltranshaz, Belarus’ government-controlled gas supply company, owed nothing to it. The press office of the Russian natural gas monopolist refused to disclose how much Beltranshaz paid to Gazprom and when.

    Beltranshaz spokesman Uladzimir Chekaw told BelaPAN on July 24 that Belarus owed nothing to Gazprom. He also refused to elaborate, citing “commercial secrecy.” “If there’s no indebtedness, there’re no debts at all,” he said.

    On July 16, Aleksandr Ananenkov, deputy chairman of the Gazprom board, threatened that Gazprom might take legal action if Belarus kept failing to pay for gas supplies in full.

    Belarusian First Deputy Energy Minister Eduard Tawpyanets said on the same day that this threat should be viewed as part of a negotiating process between a gas supplier and a customer.

    “Each party pursues its own interest,” he said. “Our goal is to negotiate the lowest possible gas price for our country. As long as we have some arguments, we’ll use them.”

    The argument that Belarus has is the cost of transit via the country, Mr. Tawpyanets said. “We believe that if the price of gas rises, so do the pumping costs and the price of transit,” but an “additional transit agreement still remains unsigned,” he added.

    Gazprom raised the gas price for Belarus from $119 per 1000 cubic meters in the first quarter of the year to $128 in the second quarter, but, according to Russian sources, Belarus continued to pay at $119, accumulating a debt of an estimated $45 million.

    Mr. Tawpyanets confirmed in late June that Belarus continued paying at the old price. He said that the Beltranshaz supervisory board “decided” on March 31 that Belarus should pay for Russian gas in the second quarter at the price of the first quarter.

    Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who chairs the Gazprom board, told reporters on July 24 that in October, Gazprom would make decisions regarding relations with Belarus and Ukraine.
    In a five-year contract, signed with the Russian natural gas monopolist on December 31, 2006, Beltranshaz pledged to pay 67 percent of the European market level in 2008, excluding delivery costs. The price was to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011. It was to be 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011.

    Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller told Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in early July that the average price paid by Gazprom's European customers might exceed $500 per 1000 cubic meters by the end of the year.

    Venezuela, Belarus sign oil deal

    From: AP
    Venezuela signed over three more oil fields to a joint venture with Belarus on Wednesday, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declaring that the two nations were strongly united in their resistance to "U.S. imperialism" and Washington's "lackeys."

    The fields were signed over after Chavez met President Alexander Lukashenko, the hard-line leader of the ex-Soviet state whom the United States has called Europe's last dictator.

    The joint venture was established last year with Chavez promising to supply Belarus' oil needs for the next century as a sign of solidarity. Belarus relies on Russia for oil, but has troubled relations with Moscow.

    The new fields will roughly triple the joint venture's capacity to 2 million tons of oil a year, Belarus' first deputy prime minister Sergei Semashko said at the signing.

    Chavez, on his third visit here, praised Belarus as an ally and renewed his vehement criticism of the United States.

    "We are fighting against one and the same opponent — imperial America and the countries that are its lackeys," he said. Addressing Lukashenko, he added: "You know we are winning, but it's a long battle and we cannot say we've won yet."

    Lukashenko awarded him the Order of the Friend of the People.

    Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has harshly cracked down on opposition and independent news media. The United States has imposed sanctions aimed at forcing a reduction of pressure on the opposition, but to little apparent effect.

    Chavez came to Belarus after a two-day visit to Russia, where he said that military cooperation with Russia was proceeding "at full speed," the Interfax news agency reported.

    The agency also said Chavez had suggested Russia open a military base in his country, but the Venezuelan government said in a statement Wednesday that no such offer was made.

    Interfax quoted Chavez as saying Venezuela was in the process of re-equipping its army and purchasing Russian fighter jets — Su30s — and parts for an integrated anti-aircraft system.

    Venezuela, which spent $4 billion on international arms purchases between 2005 and 2007, mostly from Russia and China, has a defense budget of $2.6 billion, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    "Venezuela is expending an awful lot of resources to obtain an awful lot of military hardware — some would say much more than they actually need," U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Wednesday in Washington.

    Belarus's ratings affirmed, outlook stable - S&P

    From: Forbes
    Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said it affirmed Belarus's 'B+' foreign currency, 'BB' local currency long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit rating with a stable outlook.

    S&P said that the ratings reflect unusually large contingent liabilities for the sovereign, due to the state-dominated nature of the economy, while external liquidity is weaker than that of its peers.

    Moreover, the uniquely centralized nature of the political system reduces the predictability of policy choices, teh ratings agency said.

    However, the ratings are supported by comparatively high wealth and development levels, low general government debt, relatively strong external balance sheet and significant economic potential, it noted.

    S&P added that the energy price shock has so far had a less adverse impact on the Belarusian economy and on balance sheets than initially expected.

    Strong growth in non-energy exports and high investment growth helped to sustain high economic growth and contained the deterioration in the current account and the government's budget balance, the ratings agency noted.

    The stable outlook balances Belarus' low government and external debt burdens against considerable challenges stemming from rising energy prices, the need to boost competitiveness, and fiscal pressures that may emerge as inflation is brought under control, S&P added.

    Hewlett-Packard to open its representative office in Belarus

    From: Trend

    The Hewlett-Packard Company is opening its representative office in Belarus. The office will be headed by Konstantin Leonov, the former aide to the HP director general for the CIS, BelTA learnt from the representative office.

    The decision to open a representative office in Belarus was prompted by the growing IT market and the increasing demand for high-tech equipment and IT-solutions in the country. Thus Belarus became the fourth CIS member state where Hewlett-Packard opened its representative office. Such offices have already been set up in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. In Russia the company is represented by a separate office which does not control the Hewlett-Packard actitivites in the other CIS member states.

    According to HP director general for the CIS Rudi Kozak, over the last years the Belarusian IT-market has been characterized by sustainable development. In 2006, the growth of HP profits in the CIS has exceeded that in Europe four times. At present, serious projects demanding high-tech solutions are implemented in Belarus. “HP representative office in Belarus will help the company expand its activities in the corporate sector, stimulate small and medium-size business and promote its IT products and solutions,” he said.

    Konstantin Leonov, the head of the HP office in Belarus, underlined that the high-tech market is successfully developing in Belarus and the HP Company has won a lot of customers in this country.

    HP actively participates in the automation of the Belarusian public sector. It became the main vendor for major banks and financial institutions, like Belpromstroibank, Belinvestbank, Belagroprombank, Priorbank and others.

    The Hewlett-Packard Company is an information technology corporation, specializing in personal computers, notebook computers, servers, printers, digital cameras, and calculators, network management software, among other technology related products.

  • From the Opposition...

    Salihorsk: executive committee officials and employees of state-run institutions became members of election commissions

    From: Viasna
    The only newspaper in the district that published information about the place of work and positions of district commission members was Niasvizhskiya Naviny. It published the list of members of district election commission # 72. Besides the names of commission members it also indicates how they were nominated, and provides information about their place of work and position.

    Out of 13 commission members, 6 occupy various posts in Niasvizh and Kletsk executive committees. Among them there are Alexander karniushkin, head of ideological department of Niasvizh district executive committee; Vasil Siamukha, head of labor, employment and social defense department of Kletsk district executive committee, Valiantsina Yafimchyk and Hanna Sarokina, chief officers of organizational departments of both administrations, etc.

    Besides local officials, the commissions are composed of employees of state-run organizations, who are subordinate to the executive branch: head of Kletsk branch of electric networks company, head of statistics department of Niasvizh district, deputy head of a collective farm, head of personnel department of local utility service company, and a police officer.

    Only one representative of pro-democratic forces has a seat in the commission: pensioner Mikalai Zhuk, member of the United Civic Party. However, it should be mentioned, according to our observer at Niasvizh district, there were no more nominations for commission membership from pro-democratic forces.

    At its first session the commission elected its governing bodies (all of them represent the executive power): A. Karniushkin was elected head of the commission, V. Siamukha – deputy head, and I. Tsikhonka (deputy head of the executive committee’s department for juvenile affairs in Niasvizh) was elected the commission’s secretary.

    Vileika: Two initiative groups not registered for “law breaking”

    On July 24th, at 2.30 p.m. a session of Vileika district election commission # 64 took place. The commission was to consider 4 applications for registration of initiative groups of the following candidates: Spilnichenka, Anikeyenka, Australenka, and Vinahradau.

    Deputy head of the commission brought two statements to the session. One statement came from Mr. Australenka, who decided to drop out of the race. The second paper brought by Shykalina was a statement from Mr. Adamovich from Vyhlavichy village, member of Zmitser Vinahradau’s initiative group. The statement said the following: “I was included in the initiative group without my knowledge about that”. On the basis of the statement the commission refused to register Zmitser Vinahradau. Vinahradau is on the UDF unified list of parliamentary candidates. Only two initiative groups were registered: the group of TMA director Spilchanka (19 people) and the group of incumbent MP Anikeyenka (34 people).

    Vinahradau’s campaign manager Vital Ananka claims Adamovich wrote the statement under pressure from the local vertical.

    Barysau: Forgetful colonel

    On Monday, July 21st, Barysau city district election commission (# 62) registered the initiative group of Viktar Huminski. On Wednesday, July 23rd, Adzinstva newspaper (Barysau city executive commission is its founder) published a message to the voters of incumbent MP Viktar Huminski.

    Colonel Huminski – the newspaper published his picture in military uniform, although he is retired for eight years already – writes in his message: “I can tell you the main thing – I have fulfilled the pre-election promises”.

    Probably, it’s been too long since the last election, and the colonel forgot what he promised the voters four years ago. Then Huminski claimed, “it is necessary to improve the laws about welfare of people in the Republic of Belarus,… so that no one could encroach on benefits for war veterans and disabled was veterans, veterans of labor and the Army, persons handicapped from birth, and Chernobyl disaster liquidators”.

    Let us remind you, on May 27th, 2007 Viktar Huminski voted in favor of the law on benefit cuts, depriving pensioners, students, Chernobyl liquidators, and the disabled of minimal social support.

    Yarmoshyna wants everything to be like in America

    From: Charter '97
    Head of the Central Election Commission of Belarusian Lidziya Yarmoshyna thinks early voting is “an extremely progressive measure”.

    She said it on 24 July during an on-line conference at BelTA website.

    “I think that early voting is an extremely progressive measure, which is very convenient for voters. Because it gives opportunity to vote for those people, who have other important plans for Sunday. So, I stand for preservation of the early voting, moreover, such “models of democracy”, as the United States, for example, use early voting from 3 to 45 days. So, in my view, it is convenient and should be applied,” L. Yarmoshyna said.

    However, as it is known, Belarusian CEC head Lidziya Yarmoshyna isn’t considered to be a “progressive” figure by the US. She is banned entry to the USA and the EU for falsification of the electoral campaigns in Belarus. She hasn’t been allowed to OSCE conference in Vienne recently.

    As US Charge D’Affaires to Belarus Jonathan Moore told in an interview to the Charter’97 press center, electoral process is transparent and open in the US unlike in Belarus. “All procedures of voting and election are absolutely transparent and open for observers. Results of election do not admit of doubt,” Jonathan Moore said.

  • Around the region...

    Russia reaches investors' tipping point after BP affair sours

    From: Telegraph
    After TNK-BP's president Robert Dudley fled Russia earlier this week, foreign investors fear they are witnessing a return to the dark days of the 'Wild East'. Adrian Blomfield reports from Moscow

    Not since the arrest of Yukos proprietor Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 - perhaps not even since the rouble crash of 1998 - have foreign investors been so dejected about Russia.

    Consider these comments from leading western fund managers, bankers and strategists in the hours since Robert Dudley, the chief executive of TNK-BP, was forced to flee Russia on Thursday:

    "The last train carrying the optimists out of Russian equities has just left the station," was one reaction. "The place looks rotten to the core," was another.

    "There is no longer an investment case for Russia now," opined a third. "Russia has reached tipping point."

    A fourth agreed: "The Russian government doesn't care about foreign investors. If foreign investment gets stomped on, then so be it."

    For businessmen whose attitude towards the country has generally been one of extreme optimism, often in defiance of political trends and the counsel of those whose fortunes do not depend on Russia, this is despondent stuff.

    Dudley is a symptom rather than a trigger for the gloom.

    More on oil
    Four months after Dmitry Medvdev became president vowing to inculcate in his people a respect for the rule of law, the country's already tarnished investment climate has once again taken on the hue the lawless 1990s, a decade when Russia was known as the Wild East.

    Nor has it just been BP, through its 50 per cent stake in TNK-BP, which has been caught up in what looks like a state-sanctioned assault on private property rights.

    In recent months William Browder, who ran what used to be Russia's largest foreign portfolio investment fund, has revealed a staggering fraud in which three of his companies were stolen with the apparent collusion of interior ministry officials.

    More recently, Mechel, a large steel firm, fell victim to what critics claim is a politically motivated campaign by the state anti-monopoly authorities.

    On Thursday, Vladimir Putin, who gave up the presidency to become prime minister in May but remains Russia's most powerful man, launched a chilling attack on Igor Zyuzin, Mechel's owner.

    Zyuzin had failed to turn up to a meeting with the prime minister, purportedly to explain improper pricing practices, because he had been admitted to hospital with heart failure. It was not an excuse that impressed Putin, who summoned up all the menace of his KGB past to deliver a warning to the hapless tycoon.

    "Of course, illness is illness," the prime minister announced in a televised meeting with officials in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. "But I think Igor Vladimirovich (Zyuzin) should get better as soon as possible otherwise a doctor will have to be sent to see him to clear all these problems up."

    Putin then ordered the state prosecution service to look into bringing a criminal investigation against the company. Investors, remembering similar assaults on Yukos in 2003, quickly took the hint and shares in Mechel fell 30 per cent on Friday.
    Article continues...

    Russia shuts down

    From: ITNews has been shut down by the Russian government in an effort to end criticism from the US that it is turning a blind eye to music and video piracy.

    US trade representative Susan Schwab said last year that if Russia wants to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) it should close as it is "robbing US recording companies of sales".

    After 12 years of negotiations, Russia and the US have now signed a bilateral agreement on Russian membership of the WTO.

    AllOfMP3 claimed more than 5.5 million users who were able to buy songs for between 10c and 20c each, compared with the 99c that Apple charges through iTunes.

    However, the owners of have already set up an alternative site which looks virtually identical. Users of the new are even reporting that their account balances from AllOfMP3 have been transferred to the new site.

    Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, has welcomed the shut down.

    "The reported closure of is welcome news, and another important step for the recording industry as we seek to direct consumers away from illegal online services towards the many legal alternatives," he said.

    "Some consumers may seek out other unlicensed services, but we advise them not to entrust their credit card information to these unlawful and often criminal enterprises."

    MediaServices, the hosting company for and, has always claimed that it has up-to-date licences from an organisation known as the Russian Licensing Societies.

    It also claims that Russian copyright law provides the non-profit Russian Licensing Societies with a right to grant licences and to collect royalties for the use of music without necessarily obtaining permission from the copyright owners.

    MediaServices said that it pays 15 percent of its revenue to the Russian Licensing Societies for all music, and that the organisation pays the copyright owners, but not necessarily the artists.

    The company added that, despite being under no legal requirement to do so, it is currently considering paying original performing artists a royalty of five per cent, regardless of who owns the copyright to the underlying work.

    Storms and floods in Ukraine kill 13, 2 missing

    From: AP
    Ukraine's Emergency Ministry says storms and floods have killed 13 people, including five children, and at least two more are missing.

    It says four days of storms have flooded more than 20,000 houses and cut electricity in four western regions. More than 8,000 people have been evacuated, and thousands are in serious danger as the water keeps rising Sunday.

    "Ukraine has not seen anything like that in 100 years," First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Turchinov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

    President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko have rushed to the area.

    Ukraine's president blames former friend for poisoning

    David Zhvania
    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday he believed a former friend was behind the poisoning that disfigured his face and almost killed him during his 2004 election.

    Asked during a televised press conference whether David Zhvania, the godfather of his youngest son, was responsible for the poisoning, Yushchenko said: "I think yes. And that is putting it softly."

    Then a presidential election candidate against Moscow-backed rival Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko fell seriously ill on Sept. 6, 2004. Austrian doctors three months later said it was dioxin poisoning.

    The incident helped foment Ukraine's Orange Revolution protests with which Yushchenko and his allies overturned the result of a rigged election that initially named Yanukovych as the winner.

    On Wednesday, Yushchenko deputy Ihor Pushkin pointed the finger at Zhvania, who has been questioned by prosecutors as a witness, saying "he insisted on organizing the dinner . . . after which Yushchenko fell ill."

    Zhvania, now a deputy for a pro-Yushchenko party, has denied his former friend was poisoned with dioxin, telling the BBC last month that he was the victim of food poisoning and pancreatitis.

    On Tuesday, Yushchenko - whose face is still disfigured by the poisoning - was himself questioned about the poisoning by prosecutors for over four hours.

    He said the investigation was coming to an end and that "amazing things" would be unveiled when it ends.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland's top football league season postponed in wake of match-fixing scandal

    From: Canadian Press
    The first round of Poland's top football league has been postponed due to the fallout of a match-fixing scandal.

    The governing board of Poland's premier league has pushed back the start of the season after a disputed ruling by the country's highest sports arbitration court that could result in two more teams being added to the league.

    Earlier this year, the Polish Football Federation relegated Widzew Lodz to the second tier after it was found guilty of match fixing.

    On Wednesday, the Polish Olympic Committee's arbitration court ruled that the punishment was too severe and that the statute of limitations had expired on the offence.

    That ruling has opened the door for Korona Kielce and Zaglebie Lubin, which the federation also relegated to the second tier for match-fixing, to appeal their demotion and seek reinstatement.

    "The situation is unclear to the point that after the start of the season we could have to add two teams, as could happen after the tribunal's decision," league spokesman Adrian Skubis said Friday. "This forced us to delay the start of the season."

    League officials hope the arbitration court will make a final decision next week. That would allow the season to open next weekend, Skubis said, with the postponed first-round games to be played in late October.

    "Dispute" Over US Radar Exposes "Pettiness" of Polish Politics - Paper

    From: ISTOCK
    In Poland, there is a problem with the [missile defence] shield decision. But there is also a bigger problem, which was spectacularly exposed by the conflict between the president and the government, as revealed by Dziennik, namely the distressingly low quality of the Polish political class - commentator Ryszard Bugaj writes in Dziennik.

    It is a misunderstanding that the mainstream of the discussion about the purposefulness and conditions of a US missile defence shield installation is dominated by military aspects. This is because the political consequences of a potential decision are the key issue in this discussion. And the truth is that it is these consequences that have effects on Poland's military security.

    Qui Pro Quo in Negotiations

    Regrettably, the United States has many enemies. These include not only a large group of Islamic and Third World countries, but also a considerable portion of the public in Western Europe. It appears to be a fact that the US establishment has a very exploitative attitude towards Poland and a factually dubious conviction that Poland owes a lot to the United States and that we should repay this country for all this. As a consequence, the Poles who want to go the United States not only need visas, but also have to pay for them and are frequently treated in a humiliating manner. Moreover, despite its serious involvement in Iraq, Poland does not rank among the countries that the United States treats as particularly close. For example, Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by one of the world's most obscurant regimes, is higher in this hierarchy and takes advantage of considerable military assistance from the United States. Both factors have far-reaching consequences.

    Agreement to host a shield in our territory is a very important change to Poland's position on the international arena. Let us say this clearly, in such a case we will be treated like a US aircraft carrier in this part of Europe. Three negative consequences seem inevitable: a potential increase in terrorist threats, a definitive freezing of bad relations with Russia, and a worse position in the EU. But is this not simultaneously a chance to find shelter under the United States' effective security umbrella? The answer to the last question cannot be unambiguous. Certainly, the stationing of the US short-range missile batteries in Poland has no decisive influence over this answer. This is, rather, a test of the United States' attitude towards Poland (whose outcome is for the time being as bad as possible), but we also have to bear in mind that the stationing of the US Patriot missiles in Poland will worsen our relations with Russia to an even greater degree, while rogue states - if they are determined to do so - may put the US defence to test... in Polish territory.

    Therefore, I very much doubt whether we should host a US shield in our territory whatever the terms. This is because the most important thing for our decision is what strategy we are adopting in Poland's foreign policy, understood in the most comprehensive manner. Agreeing to host the shield could be justified with the hypothesis that Russia, as such, has a hostile attitude to independent Poland, and this is something that cannot change. The view that we have only one foot in the EU would be favourable to a "yes" decision, as is the case with scepticism about increased terrorist threats following the shield installation. This political tally must also include potentially worse relations between Poland and the United States in the case of our refusal.
    Read the full text here

    State-owned firm embroiled in shady dealings
    WBJ has learned that state-owned military equipment producer PCO used suspicious methods to hire a shady contracting firm for renovation work at its new headquarters

    From: WBJ
    A construction project for a gleaming new zl.70-million headquarters facility for military optical-equipment producer Przemyslowe Centrum Optyki (PCO), a member of the state-owned military equipment giant Bumar group, has led to allegations of corruption and mismanagement after subcontractors claimed that they were never paid for their work.

    Two main players were involved in the project - Mirbud, which constructed the company's new headquarters, and Warmet, which was responsible for renovating several of the older buildings within the complex. Subcontractors hired by Warmet claim that they were never paid, and are now holding PCO responsible.

    An investigation by WBJ has shown that Warmet was a strange choice for the large project. It is an extremely small company, consisting of just five people, according to a source close to the case. Additionally, documents obtained by WBJ indicate that the firm has not submitted financial statements to the National Court Registry (KRS) since 2004.

    Why Warmet?

    How Warmet came to be the lead contractor for the renovation portion of the project is something of a mystery. Public companies are legally required to grant construction projects worth more than zl.5 million through a tender process, but there is no evidence to indicate that any such tender was ever held. Several of the subcontractors in the case claim that PCO's technical director and a member of the board, Robert Wrona, has a close relationship with Warmet executives.

    In initial conversations with WBJ, both PCO and Mirbud claimed that Mirbud was the general contractor for the entire project, and that Warmet was only a subcontractor, hired not by PCO but by Mirbud.

    However, WBJ has learned that PCO came to an agreement with Warmet itself for the renovation services. Ryszard Kardasz, the president of PCO, admitted as much when confronted with the accusations, telling WBJ that "Warmet won the competition because it quoted the lowest price." Kardasz referred to PCO's selection process for Warmet numerous times, calling it a "competition" but never using the term "tender."

    "Instead [of a tender], what happened was that the project was divided into several smaller parts, and each part had its own selection process," said Jaroslaw Kowalczyk, president of Kowalczyk Incaso, a vindication company that is representing the subcontractors.

    According to Kowalczyk, Warmet's bank accounts have been blocked and it has previously been sued a number of times for not paying its subcontractors.

    "It looks like PCO did not check any of Warmet's financial details, otherwise they would not have signed a contract with [them]," said Kowalczyk.

    When asked for specifics about the selection process, PCO's Kardasz pleaded ignorance, and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Wrona. "If you want any details, call Wrona, because he is responsible for this," he said. "I do not know any details. The first time I was informed about the case was when Kowalczyk Incaso sent me the case description and payment requests," he added.

    WBJ attempted to contact Mr. Wrona, but was told he was unavailable for comment.

    Did PCO know?

    Now that ignorance is coming back to haunt PCO, as Warmet's subcontractors are threatening to take PCO to court. But records show that PCO long ago became suspicious that Warmet was not paying the firms it hired. Records show that in May of last year, PCO asked Warmet for confirmation that it had paid its subcontractors.

    Kardasz told WBJ that the firm had taken action against Warmet. "Warmet did not fulfill its contract with its subcontractors. That was why we forced them to leave the building site in August 2007 and Mirbud finished the construction," said Kardasz.

    However, legal documents submitted by the subcontractors claim that Warmet was the main contractor throughout the entire project, until its completion in December 2007.

    Warmet did sign an agreement to slightly reduce its role in the project in December 2007, after Kowalczyk's vindication company had contacted PCO with the complaints. Still, there is no evidence that Warmet's involvement altogether ceased.

    Show me the money

    Komvix, one of those subcontractors hired by Warmet, claims that it is owed as much as zl.1 million, and says that it has been unable to pay its own subcontractors because it has not received payment.

    Records show that PCO regularly paid Warmet for the work being carried out. Why Warmet's subcontractors never got their share is unclear.

    However, the subcontractors say PCO is ultimately responsible for the late payments since it chose Warmet to complete the project. According to Polish construction law, a project's investor is responsible for payment for all work on the construction site, including work carried out by subcontractors.

    Taking responsibility

    Still, in conversations with WBJ, Kardasz maintained that his company was not responsible for Warmet's delinquencies.

    "[PCO is] not responsible. Warmet did not report that it had any subcontractor ... on paper," Kardasz told WBJ.

    But documents provided by Komvix show that PCO knew about Komvix, since the three companies (PCO, Warmet and Komvix) held meetings to discuss the project's progress every week. And a letter written by Wrona in July 2007 shows that he, at least, was aware that Warmet had hired Komvix, and that this information was indeed "on paper."

    "For general renovations of buildings C, D and E, we have signed the contract with Warmet, which informed us in writing that the ... subcontractor is the company Komvix," Wrona wrote.

    Moreover, in two prior phone conversations with Kowalczyk and in a letter written to Warmet dated September 21, 2007, Kardasz admitted that PCO felt obligated to take responsibility.

    According to letters it sent to Warmet, PCO has decided to hold back Warmet's last payment of zl.804,829 until the whole case is resolved. But in talks with WBJ, Kardasz said the money PCO owed Warmet had all been paid.

    PCO, Warmet and Kowalczyk Incaso are expected to meet today to try to hammer out a resolution. If none is found, PCO may be forced to pay Warmet's subcontractors, despite already paying Warmet.

    The new PCO headquarters is due to open as scheduled on September 4 of this year.

  • Sport...

    Hleb sings praises of Wenger after walking out on Arsenal

    From: Guardian
    Only a brief absence makes the heart grow fonder, in the case of Alexander Hleb. A week after swapping Arsenal for Barcelona - he had reportedly criticised his former team-mate Cesc Fabregas and Gunners manager Arsone Wenger earlier this month - the Belarus international has offered a firm endorsement of the pair's abilities.

    Speaking in St Andrews, where the L11.9m midfield player and his Barca team-mates are preparing for tonight's friendly match against Hibernian and the visit to Dundee United on Saturday, Hleb denied any antipathy existed in his closing months at the Emirates Stadium.

    "I never said anything bad about Arsone or Fabregas," said Hleb, who had apparently branded Fabregas as selfish and highlighted tactical disagreements with Wenger. "This was just the English newspapers saying this.

    "For me, Fabregas is my best friend and I have a good understanding with him on the pitch. Arsone Wenger is like a father for me. He gave me a lot and I learned a lot from him. I have to thank him for the fact that I now play in Barcelona. In the future, if Arsone stays at Arsenal, then Arsenal will always be at the top. He is everything for Arsenal."

    While Wenger's tenure should be extended into the near future, how long Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor remain in north London is open to conjecture. Adebayor remains firmly on Barca's radar and Hleb understandably wants to see both his former team-mates join him in La Liga, even if he concedes it may be unlikely.

    "They are fantastic players," said Hleb of the Arsenal duo. "But every team likes to keep its players. If they came to Barcelona, it would be fantastic for Barcelona and for me personally."

    Hleb has stressed personal issues were the prime motivation behind his departure from England, a more relaxed Spanish schedule over the festive period is apparently significant to the 27-year-old. "It was a difficult situation," he explained. "I am from Belarus and I am always with family in December for Christmas and New Year. For me that was very important. In London it was always hectic. Only football helped me. It was just a feeling I had inside me. For me it was difficult to live in London."

    He added with a smile: "What is different at Barcelona in December is that we get two days off. No, I just wanted to change something. Barcelona are a big team and I am very happy. This is a fantastic club, that is all I can say."

    Hleb shrugged off a training ground spat between R?fael Marquez and Lionel Messi on Tuesday evening as normal. "It happens in any team. Afterwards they shook hands."

    Another new team-mate and another former Arsenal player, Thierry Henry, has proved necessary as Hleb attempts to integrate in his Camp Nou surroundings. "I know it is a different league but I hope I can adapt as quickly as possible," he said. "Thierry has helped me as much as possible. We speak always and he explains a lot. I think I am adapting to the team as quickly as possible."

    Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi could feature against Hibs at Murrayfield after the trio arrived in Scotland last night. They had been granted extra time off by the new Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, after their successful exertions for Spain in Euro 2008.

    As if to prove their affection towards Scotland, where they have now spent successive pre-season spells, or simply a fondness for commercial ventures, Bar?a last night unveiled the club's new official tartan, which has been registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority.

    And at the Tour

    Konstantsin SIUTSOU of Belarus is looking at a top 20 finish going into final stage of the 2008 Tour de France. After disastrous 2nd and third stage finishes, SIUTSOU has consistently been in the running in each of the subsequent stages to the finish. He is also ranked 19th in the points competition for climbers.

    Aleksandr KUSCHYNSKI is in 128th place.

  • Cultural scene...

    Russia, Ukraine, Serbia to partake in Day of Belarusian Written Language in Borisov

    From: BelTA
    Literary people from Russia, Ukraine and Serbia are going to take part in the Day of the Belarusian Written Language in Borisov on September 7, Deputy Information Minister of Belarus Igor Laptenok stated at a session of the festivity organization committee.

    Representatives of nearly 30 countries will participate in the event that is due to demonstrate literary traditions of Belarusians, high spirituality of the Belarusian printed word.

    The 15th Day of the Belarusian Written Language is held alongside the cultural action We Are Belarusians. The major theme of the festivity is the history and development of the Day of the Belarusian Written Language.

    A scientific expedition Road to Saint Places is traditionally held before the Day of the Belarusian Written Language. The expedition visits the Minsk oblast monasteries and temples and finally arrives in Borisov.

    The Day of the Belarusian Written Language will be preceded by a roundtable “Literary Translation as One-to-One Method. Slavonic Vector” with the participation of foreign writers. On September 6, Borisov will host a scientific practical conference Borisov Readings organized by the National Academy of Sciences.

    A festival of the towns – festive venues will take place at the Center of Culture. Every town will be presented at a separate ground with meetings, presentations and art group performances. A parade of delegations of the towns and guests will make its way to the square near the regional executive committee.

    Partaking in an opening ceremony of the Day of the Belarusian Written Language will be art groups, honorary guests and officials. The opening ceremony will be followed by an awarding of the winners of the national contest Art of a Book. The winners of the national contest on the best work in the poetry, prose, drama, literary critics, children’s literature, journalism, translation, satire and humour will receive honorary signs Golden Folio and Golden Cupid.

    The programme of the Day will also include an exhibition of Borisov-born artist Valery Shkarubo in the regional library. The Childhood Holiday and a forum of the youth press will embrace children’s book, press, photo exhibitions and quizzes.

    The Day of the Belarusian Written Language will be wrapped up with a gala concert of the Belarusian stars and well-known art groups of Belarus and festive fireworks.

  • Endnote...

    ANALYSIS-Belarus leader dumps unwanted allies after bomb

    From: Reuters
    Veteran Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has seized on a bomb explosion that hurt more than 50 people at a concert he attended to improve conditions for an opening to the West.

    Analysts said Lukashenko, accused in the West of crushing basic rights, had weeded out former allies who had become obstacles to a rapprochement to improve his image before a parliamentary election seen in Western capitals as a test of his willingness to introduce democratic change.

    Initial suggestions that the July 4 explosion was a ploy to crack down on the opposition proved unfounded when a dozen activists rounded up by police were quickly released.

    Instead, within days of the bomb, Lukashenko sacked Security Council chief Viktor Sheiman, a highly influential ally from when the president came to power in 1994 and linked by Western countries to the 1990s disappearance of opposition figures.

    Presidential chief of staff Gennady Nevyglas was also fired.

    "Hawks had clearly dominated the government until recently. The paradox is that the bomb could boost those wanting dialogue with the West and moves towards a market economy," said Yaroslav Romanchuk, head of the Mises Institute in Minsk.

    "The explosion made it easier to clear out from their ranks people the West sees as odious."

    The replacements -- Yuri Zhadobin, chairman of the KGB intelligence service to head the security council -- and presidential adviser Vladimir Makei as chief of staff -- have untarnished reputations that could be more acceptable in the West, analysts said.

    "Those with no sinister image in the eyes of the West have had their position strengthened," said independent analyst Alexander Kloskovsky.

    "These are people with greater room to manoeuvre and more options in finding their way in making contacts with the West."


    Lukashenko remains barred from both the United States and Europe over allegations he rigged his 2006 re-election. The EU has indicated a fair poll in September could transform ties.

    Since quarrelling with Russia last year over energy prices, he has tried to improve relations with the West by releasing detainees considered to be political prisoners -- although one of them is still in prison.

    These efforts at rapprochement have been aimed mostly at Europe, while ties with Washington -- highly critical of Lukashenko -- have deteriorated.

    Belarus told the U.S. ambassador to leave in March and cut the size of its embassy -- all in contrast with a softer U.S. stance towards ex-Soviet Central Asian states.

    "Lukashenko is doomed to trying to befriend the West as he has come to the conclusion that Russia cannot be an ally or defend him," said Stanislav Belkovsky, an independent Russian analyst and head of Moscow's National Strategy Institute.

    "But the bomb has nothing to do with this. It was a sign of the struggle for power in Lukashenko's entourage. I see no direct link with the election as no one is accusing the opposition. The entourage was held politically responsible."

    Opposition leaders suggested for a time they could boycott the September election to a parliament where they hold no seats if the detention of activists compromised the point of the poll.

    In any case, analysts say the election is unlikely to produce substantial change.

    "It's either zero seats for the opposition like normal or a few token seats for the opposition, which would be interesting," said Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

    "The opposition isn't going to win substantial numbers of seats unless the regime lets them."