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Today's Headlines for:
Saturday, August 09, 2008

Belarus sends 50 atheletes to Beijing, War in Georgia, Nukes, CIS, Missiles, Economics, Gaz, Ukraine and of course, Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #332

    Belarusian flag raised in Olympic Village

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The Belarusian flag was raised in the Olympic Village in Beijing on August 7. Attending the ceremony were more than 100 people.

    The flag-raising ceremony symbolizes the official presentation of the delegation of the Republic of Belarus at the Olympic Games.

    The Belarusian flag was followed by the flags of Spain, Fiji and Monaco.

    China has carried out a considerable amount of work to get ready for 2008 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The organizers of the Games spent about $42 billion on the preparation for this event (the Olympic Games in Greece cost about $15 billion). Hundreds of new objects have been constructed in Beijing, including the Bird's Nest main Olympic stadium and the Water Cube aquatics stadium.

    Belarus President confers state awards on Belarusian athletes in Beijing

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visited the Olympic Village where he talked to the Belarusian Olympic team and conferred state awards on Belarusian athletes on August 7.

    Two-time Olympic champion, silver and bronze medalist of the Olympic Games, five-time world champion Yekaterina Karsten was presented with the Order of Fatherland 1st Class. She was also awarded a special prize of the President “Belarusian Sports Olympus” 2008.

    Bronze medalists of the Athens Summer Olympic Games and world champions Yulia Bichik and Natalia Gelakh were awarded the Order of Fatherland 3rd Class.

    The President got familiar with the housing conditions of the Belarusian Olympic team. “We expect you to show good results,” the Belarusian head of state underlined addressing the Belarusian athletes.

    Alexander Romankov to carry flag for Belarus at Beijing Olympics

    Olympic fencing champion Alexander Romankov will carry the State Flag of Belarus at the opening ceremony of the 29th Summer Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8, press attach? of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus Piotr Ryabukhin told BelTA.

    Alexander Romankov has achieved amazing results in his career. As a member of the Soviet Union team he won a team gold medal in 1988 in Seoul. He also is a ten-time world champion in individual and team events and also many-time prizewinner of the Soviet Union championships. In recognition of his successes he was conferred the title of the distinguished master of sport of the Soviet Union, Orders of People’s Friendship and Badge of Honour and also two medals for Labour Merits. Now Alexander Romankov, 55, is the chairman of the Belarusian fencing federation.

    Belarus President to attend opening ceremony of Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

    The Belarusian head of state will attend the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and meet with the leadership of China. On August 7, the Head of State is expected to meet with Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Hu Jintao.

    China is one of the main foreign trade partners of Belarus. In 2007, the trade between Belarus and China was equal to $1.3 billion.

    In 2003-2007, China invested about $135 million in the Belarusian economy. As of January 1 2008, 10 Belarusian-Chinese joint ventures and 5 Chinese companies were operating in Belarus. The Chinese share in the authorized fund of the companies amounted to $1.26 million.

    Alexander Lukashenko paid official visits to China in 1995, 1997, 2001 and in 2005.

    According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Belarus and China have similar positions towards the basic international problems: the necessity to construct multipolar world, the strengthening of the authority of the United Nations Organization, noninterference in the internal affairs of a state.

    Belarus and China have created a developed legal-treaty base of the cooperation. The two countries signed more than 80 agreements including the agreement on trade and economic cooperation, the agreement on avoidance of double taxation, on investments protection.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    No Russian nuclear arms in Belarus in response to US air defences in Poland

    From: BelTA
    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus Alexander Surikov said, Russia will not place nuclear armaments in Belarus if Poland allows deploying US air defence installations in its territory. The statement was made at a press conference in Minsk on August 6.

    Regarding the issue the Belarusian-Russian military cooperation is limited by the international treaty of 1994, which declared Belarus a nuclear-free zone and Russia guaranteed it, reminded the Ambassador.

    He added, the placement of other defensive installations in Belarus, including missile systems Iskander or strategic bombers, is possible. “Let the military agencies talk about it,” added the diplomat. Alexander Surikov said specific actions may be thought about only after the USA inks the treaty with Poland.

    CIS experts to discuss procedures of Commonwealth’s statutory bodies

    From: BelTA
    A team of experts of the CIS member states will discuss the procedures of the statutory bodies of the Commonwealth in the CIS Executive Committee on August 7-8.

    As BelTA learnt from the CIS Executive Committee, participants of the session are expected to agree the redraft of the rules of the procedure of the CIS Council of the Heads of State, the CIS Council of the Heads of Government, the CIS Ministerial Council and the CIS Economic Council. The document regulates the procedure of various sessions of the supreme bodies of the Commonwealth, preparation and adoption of documents, other issues. The redraft will include regulations concerning the informal summits. The document will regulate the order of invitations of representatives of international organizations to such sessions.

    The experts will also consider the preparation and holding of expert groups’ sessions to agree various draft documents of the CIS.

    CIS Executive Committee to set up analytics department

    An analytics department is supposed to be set up in the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States, BelTA learnt from Oleg Ivanov, Deputy Head of the CIS and EurAsEC Office of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    At present CIS agencies have quite an acute demand for analytics services. This is why the new department will be set up, he said.

    About ten years ago attempts were made to implement a similar project. Due to the lack of advanced information technologies and optimism regarding the Commonwealth analytics was shoved to the background, said the official.

    According to Oleg Ivanov, the department is supposed to work hard to allow all member-states to get involved in the CIS operation, see CIS prospects and understand their national interests. Apart from political forecasts the department will focus on working out documents to implement the CIS Future Development Concept taking into account modern global tendencies.

    Experts are expected to discuss a package of documents regulating procedures of CIS charter bodies at the CIS Executive Committee on August 7-8. Apart from that, optimisation of branch bodies of the Commonwealth is also under consideration. “We have been talking about it a lot. It is time to do something. It is one of the key issues of Belarus’ presidency in the CIS Heads of Government Council,” remarked Oleg Ivanov. “We always say that branch councils are the spine of the CIS. It is time for reforms where they are necessary,” he added.

    According to Oleg Ivanov, the prepared draft documents truly make the CIS a full-fledged international organisation.

    CIS experts concerned over deterioration of situation in South Ossetia

    The CIS experts have expressed their concerns over the deterioration of the situation in South Ossetia (Georgia), BelTA learnt from the CIS Executive Committee.

    The concerns were voiced by Oleg Ivanov, the Deputy Head of the CIS and EurAsEC Office of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who is presiding over the sixth session of a task group working out documents to implement the CIS Future Development Concept.

    On behalf of the task group, Oleg Ivanov expressed the hope for the prompt settlement of the conflict.

    A report on the current situation in the South Ossetia conflict zone was presented at the session of the CIS council of permanent plenipotentiary representatives in the CIS main bodies that took place in Minsk on August 5.

  • Economics...

    Special part of Tax Code of Belarus to come into force January 1, 2010

    From: BelTA
    A special part of the Tax Code of Belarus will come into force on January 1, 2008, Minister for Taxes and Duties Anna Deiko said at an onsite session on tax issues. The session was chaired by Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky on August 7.

    According to Anna Deiko, the document has been already drafted but needs to be adjusted to the trends in the Belarusian economy. A reminder, in 2009-2010 Belarus plans to abolish several taxes.

    For example, the duty to the national fund for supporting manufacturers of agricultural products, food and agrarian science will be reduced to 1% of sales profits. The local retail tax and local services tax will be set at 5%. Apart from that, the active part of key production assets is supposed to be removed from the real estate tax. Besides, procedures and conditions for applying the income tax to natural persons will be perfected and facilitated.

    The government plans to annul ultimately the duty collected by the national fund for supporting manufacturers of agricultural products, food and agrarian science as well as special local taxes (3% of the income).

    Belarus’ gold and foreign currency reserves up 13.9%

    In January-July 2008, Belarus’ international reserve assets were up 13.9% to $5688.2 million. Last month they were up 2.5%, BelTA leant from the information department of the National Bank.

    Hard currency reserves account for the greatest share of the international reserve assets of Belarus ($4647.8 million, or 81.7%)) and precious metals and gems ($947.2million, or 16.6%). Over the past seven months they increased by 14.5% and 11.8% respectively. Other assets account for $93.2 million, or 1.7%.

    In January-July 2008, Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated following the IMF methods increased by 10.6% to $4627.2 million. A reminder, according to International Monetary Fund, the Belarusian international reserves are defined as marketable foreign assets, which consist of monetary gold, special drawing rights, the country’s reserve position in the IMF and currency reserves. The reserve assets can be used quickly for money market interventions in order to stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, for the government to finance import of goods and services, for paying and servicing the foreign national debt and for other purposes.

    In 2007, the Belarusian international reserve assets calculated using national terms spurred 3 times, to total $4992.7 million.

    By 2010, Belarus plans to grow its international reserve assets up to $10 billion.

    Belarus’ GDP 10.3% up in January-July 2008

    In January-July 2008, the gross domestic product of Belarus increased by 10.3% over the same period last year, BelTA learnt in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In the period under review, the industrial output swelled by 13.1% (the annual target is 8-9. In January-July this year, the production of consumer goods went by 13.8% (the annual target is 9-10%). The production of foods increased by 14.8% (the target is 8-9%), non-foods – by 13% (the annual target is 10-11%).

    In January-July 2008 Belarus’ industrial output swelled by 13.1% to a total of Br74.517 trillion, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis. The industrial output is supposed to increase by 8-9% this year.

    According to current data of the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, over the seven months of the year Belarus made Br13.691 trillion worth of consumer goods, 13.8% up on the same period of last year (the annual growth forecast stands at 9-10%). Food output soared by 14.8% (the annual growth forecast stands at 8-9%) and reached Br6.8 trillion. Non-food output reached Br6 trillion (13% up, with the growth forecast at 10-11%). Alcohol production totalled Br884.5 billion, 11.8% up on January-July 2007.

    In January-June the energy intensity of the gross domestic product shrank by 7.3% (7-8% reduction according to the forecast). The profitability of sold industrial products totalled 18.3% in H1 2008, with the annual forecast set at 12-13%.

    In H1 2008, Belarus’ foreign trade in goods and services swelled by 57.1% in comparison with the same period of last year (the annual target is 14.5-15.5%), the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis told BelTA.

    According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, Belarus’ export went up by 59.3% (the annual target is 16-17%), the import increased by 55% (the annual target is 12.5-13.5%).

    Over the six months this year, Belarus posted a deficit in foreign trade at the amount of $1081 million. In 2008, the foreign trade deficit is projected at the level of $1400-1420 million.

  • From the International Press...

    Russia warns US of Belarus plans

    From: Al Jazeera
    Washington wants to deploy ten US interceptor missiles in Poland
    A Russian diplomat has warned that Moscow could deploy short-range missiles and strategic bombers in Belarus in response to a planned United States missile defence system in Europe.

    Alexander Surikov, Russia's ambassador to Belarus, said Russia's security would be threatened by the stationing of ten US interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

    Surikov said at a news conference in Minsk, the Belarussian capital, that Russia would not send nuclear weapons to Belarus.

    But he said that the Russian military could consider deploying short-range Iskander missiles or strategic bombers if the US goes ahead with its plans.

    "The military could consider action to counter the missile defence. That includes Iskander missile systems and strategic bombers in Belarus and Kaliningrad,'' Surikov said.

    Kaliningrad is a Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania.

    Belarus, an ally and neighbour of Russia, handed over its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Mosocw in the early 1990s.

    Surikov's warning echoed one from a Russian general who said last November that Iskander missiles could be sent to Belarus.

    Placing such missiles in Belarus, which borders Poland, would put the planned US missile defences there within firing range, although the site in the Czech Republic is likely to be out of reach.

    Iskander missiles can be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads, and Russian strategic bombers can also be equipped to carry conventional weapons.

    The Kremlin has rejected US assurances that the sites are intended to fend off missile threats from Iran, saying they will threaten Russia's nuclear deterrent.

    Belarus to pay more than $200 for '09 gas-envoy

    From: Reuters
    Belarus should expect an increase of more than 50 percent in the price of Russian gas imports to more than $200 per 1,000 cubic metres, Moscow's ambassador in Minsk said on Wednesday.

    Belarus pays the cheapest price for gas sold by export monopoly Gazprom at $128. Following a dispute over pricing late in 2006, the two ex-Soviet states agreed Belarus would pay market prices by 2011.

    Belarus has called for that agreement to be renegotiated as energy prices have soared beyond Minsk's expectations and its budget draft for next year has pencilled in a price of $140.

    Ambassador Alexander Surikov said the agreement could not be renegotiated.

    "The contract was signed. To abrogate this agreement would be very dangerous. There is no other gas supplier. Amending the contract? ... No such talks are taking place at the moment," Surikov told reporters.

    "Next year, the price of gas for Belarus will be set at 80 percent of the price for Poland, minus custom duties and transit costs. The price will clearly hover above $200," he said.

    The European Union closely watches price agreements between Russia and neighbouring Ukraine and Belarus, which sometimes lead to disputes and supply cuts. One such cut to Ukraine at the beginning of 2006, although brief, affected some EU states.

    Belarus seeks return of foster child from U.S.

    From: Reuters
    Authorities in ex-Soviet Belarus on Wednesday demanded the return home of a girl who failed to turn up for a flight after spending the summer with a family in the United States, the second such incident in three years.

    U.S. diplomats in Minsk, embroiled for months in a diplomatic row over sanctions, said they were undertaking efforts to ensure the girl, a minor, flew home.

    Belarus's foreign ministry said the girl was born in 1991 and lived in a town north of Minsk with her grandmother.

    She was one of a group of 25 children spending time with a host family parents in and around San Francisco, a common practice in the ex-Soviet state worst hit by the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

    "The group was to have flown back on August 5, but this girl and the family she was staying with did not appear at the airport and the flight was therefore delayed," ministry spokesman Maria Vanshina told a news conference.

    "Our consul is now there and we are taking steps to bring home this underage citizen of Belarus."

    A note had been presented to charge d'affaires Jonathan Moore, the most senior of five diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, demanding the girl's immediate return.

    Moore told reporters it was in Belarus's interest to secure "the swift return home of all members of this group. The embassy and state department are working closely with the Belarussian side to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.

    "For us, such a resolution is linked with the return home to Belarus of this individual."

    In 2006, an Italian family concealed for three weeks a 10-year-old girl they had hosted for the summer, saying she had been mistreated at her orphanage.

    The incident sparked an angry reaction in Belarus and prompted authorities to impose tougher regulations on holidays abroad for children and adoption procedures for foreigners.

    Latvia rejects criticism of Belarus meeting

    Latvia rejected Wednesday claims Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis had flouted European Union sanctions against Belarus by hosting its premier at a secret meeting, saying the EU had known about the talks.

    "Our European Union partners were informed about this meeting beforehand," Edgars Vaikulis, a spokesman for Godmanis, told AFP.

    Godmanis has been under fire since his July 11 border meeting with counterpart Sergei Sidorsky came to light several days ago, thanks to some investigative reporting by a Latvian television show.

    President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and is dubbed "Europe's last dictator" because of regular crackdowns and tough day-to-day restrictions on the opposition as well as alleged election-rigging.

    Both Latvia and Belarus became independent as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, but the former is now anchored firmly in the Western camp, having joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

    Vaikulis said the two premiers had discussed energy supply as well as the transport sector. Latvia's ports, railways and highways are key conduits for goods being transported through the region.

    He said the meeting was "related to economic ties between the two countries, and the EU does not object to economic development in its member states."

    Lord Bell confirms appointment as Belarus spin doctor

    From: Ria Novosti
    Belarus has signed a contract with British PR guru Lord Timothy Bell, best known for his role in Margaret Thatcher's three successful election campaigns, to improve Belarus's image abroad.

    Lord Bell said in an interview with independent Belarusian news agency Belapan that a contract was signed late last week, but did not disclose the size or term of the contract.

    He has pledged to work on improving the image of the country, rather than that of President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, while conceding that a president is an undeniable part of a county and its image.

    Lukashenko, president since 1994, and other top Belarusian officials are currently banned from visiting the European Union, including the U.K., for their clampdown on political dissent and other human rights violations. Lukashenko expelled the U.S. ambassador in March and recalled Belarus's ambassador from Washington.

    The deal with Bell came after nearly five months of talks between the spin doctor and Belarusian authorities, Russian daily Kommersant said. Lord Bell met with Lukashenko in Minsk in March, and noted "a lot of double standards" in Western policies toward the country and biased media coverage.

    Media reports said earlier the PR executive had planned two campaigns for Belarus, focused on information and marketing, to send a "more factual message about Belarus" and improve the country's investment image.

    According to Kommersant, Bell earlier said he and his company expected to earn "millions of dollars" in ex-Soviet Belarus.

    Lord Bell advised Lady Thatcher on interviews, clothing and even her hairstyle, consulted a Saudi government, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Thailand's controversial ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and Russian fugitive oligarch Boris Berezovsky. However, Bell did turn down Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe.

    Bell has avoided commenting on a police crackdown on opposition activists in Minsk on March 25, when dozens of protesters and journalists were beaten up. The United States and the EU condemned the handling of the rally by authorities.

  • From the Opposition...

    Harry Pahaniaila: entrance interviews violate matriculates’ rights

    From: Viasna
    On 7 August the education minister Uladzimir Radzkou and the first deputy head of the presidential administration Anatol Rubinau (who is called the main ideologist of a new school reform) had a meeting with journalists to discuss the results of the entrance exams to the high schools of Belarus.

    This year 85 000 students entered the higher educational establishments. About 50 000 will study full-time. According to Mr. Radzkou, the most popular profiles are jurisprudence, economics, state management, international relations and foreign languages. Some new specialities were opened this year.

    Anatol Rubinau expressed a positive opinion about a novelty introduced this year for matriculates to some specialities, including journalist, international relations, international law and a number of others. Since this year the young people have to pass an interview.

    The deputy head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Harry Pahaniaila has a different opinion. ‘I am extremely negative about this procedure, when not knowledge is checked, but when people are asked about their political and public views. It does not do any good. Such things contradict to the Constitution and to the international human rights undertakings of our country. These interviews are just additional official barriers that can be put to a matriculate to deprive him/her of the constitutional right to education.’

    Everybody should take part in “election” …or prison in Akrestsin Street expect you

    From: Charter '97
    An activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Paval Kuryanovich has been sentenced by the court of Maskouski district of Minsk to 15 days of arrest. The oppositionist arrested during the storing of the head office of the Young Front by riot policemen, has been framed up for petty hooliganism. Leaders of the Young Front Artur Finkevich and Zmitser Dashkevich are in the prison in Akrestsin Street as well.

    Artur Finkevich and Zmitser Dashkevich in their absence have been sentenced to 7 days of arrest for participation in the rally on May 1 dedicated to enlargement of the European Union. More than 30 persons were detained then when activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” took to the streets with European flags. As a protest, Young Front leaders have gone on a hunger strike in prison.

    Yesterday evening riot policemen policemen and KGB officers broke into the head office of the Young Front in Karol Street in Minsk. When breaking into the office, policemen broke two entrance doors of the head office. The leaders of the organisation Zmitser Dashkevich and Artur Finkevich, as well as 4 activists of the Young Front and an activist of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Paval Kuryanovich were arrested.

    As one of the leaders of the Young Front Artur Finkevich told to the Charter’97 press-centre before the arrest, law-enforcers were watching for about an hour outside the building where the apartment was rented by the Young Front activists. Then they rang the door and demanded to open. They didn’t show the search warrant, they simply said that they had received an anonymous phone call about a dead body in the apartment. When the doors were not open to them, policemen and riot policemen started to burst it by a tool reminding a sledge-hammer. Leaders of the Young Front Zmitser Dashkevich and Artur Finkevich with a few activists of the organisation were in the apartment at that moment.

    From the police department of Maskouski district Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich and Paval Kuryanovich were sent to the detention centre in Akrestsin Street. They were kept there until 2 a.m. other detained were released without a report being drawn up. They were fingerprinted, videoed and pictured.

    As we have informed, youth organisations have announced a boycott to the “parliamentary elections” which is to take place in Belarus this autumn. Human rights activist link arrests of the activists with the active campaign urging to boycott the election, which wouldn’t be free, as is already obvious now.

  • Around the region...

    Georgia says Russian aircraft bombed its air bases

    From: Yahoo
    Russia sent columns of tanks and reportedly bombed Georgian air bases Friday after Georgia launched a major military offensive Friday to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia, threatening to ignite a broader conflict.

    Hundreds of civilians were reported dead in the worst outbreak of hostilities since the province won defacto independence in a war against Georgia that ended in 1992. Witnesses said the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali was devastated.

    "I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars," said Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, who had fled with her family to Dzhava, a village near the border with Russia. "It's impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged."

    The fighting broke out as much of the world's attention was focused on the start of the Olympic Games and many leaders, including Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Bush, were in Beijing.

    The timing suggests Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may have been counting on surprise to fulfill his longtime pledge to wrest back control of South Ossetia — a key to his hold on power.

    Saakashvili agreed the timing was not coincidental, but accused Russia of being the aggressor. "Most decision makers have gone for the holidays," he said in an interview with CNN. "Brilliant moment to attack a small country."

    Diplomats called for another emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, its second since early Friday morning seeking to prevent an all-out war.

    The United States was sending an envoy to the region Friday to meet with the parties involved. "We support Georgia's territorial integrity," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters. "We are working on mediation efforts to secure a cease-fire."

    Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, has about 2,000 troops in Iraq, making it the third-largest contributor to coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain. But Saakashvili told CNN that the troops would be called home Saturday in the face of the South Ossetia fighting.

    Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership — a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.

    Ten Russian peacekeepers were killed and 30 wounded when their barracks were hit in Georgian shelling, said Russian Ground Forces spokesman Col. Igor Konashenkov. Russia has soldiers in South Ossetia as peacekeeping forces but Georgia alleges they back the separatists.

    Georgia's Foreign Ministry accused Russian aircraft of bombing two military air bases inside Georgia, inflicting some casualties and destroying several military aircraft. Rustavi 2 television said four people were killed and five wounded at the Marneuli air base.

    Russia's Defense Ministry said it was sending reinforcements for its peacekeepers, and Russian state television and Georgian officials reported a convoy of tanks had crossed the border. The convoy was expected to reach the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, by evening, Channel One television said.

    Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili said government troops were now in full control of Tskhinvali, but the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Konashenkov as saying late Friday that Russian tanks were firing on Georgian positions in the city.

    "We are facing Russian aggression," said Georgia's Security Council chief Kakha Lomaya. "They have sent in their troops and weapons and they are bombing our towns."

    Putin has warned that the Georgian attack will draw retaliation and the Defense Ministry pledged to protect South Ossetians, most of whom have Russian citizenship.

    Chairing a session of his Security Council in the Kremlin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also vowed that Moscow will protect Russian citizens.

    "In accordance with the constitution and federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located," Medvedev said, according to Russian news reports. "We won't allow the death of our compatriots go unpunished."

    An AP reporter saw tanks and other heavy weapons concentrating on the Russian side of the border with South Ossetia — supporting the reports of an incursion. Some villagers were fleeing into Russia.

    "I saw them (the Georgians) shelling my village," said Maria, who gave only her first name. She said she and other villagers spent the night in a field and then fled toward the Russian border as the fighting escalated.

    Yakobashvili said Georgian forces had shot down four Russian combat planes over Georgian territory but gave no details. Russia's Defense Ministry denied an earlier Georgia report about one Russian plane downed and had no immediate comment on the latest claim.

    Yakobashvili said that one Russian plane had dropped a bomb on the Vaziani military base near the Georgian capital, but no one was hurt.

    More than 1,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers were at the base last month to teach combat skills to Georgian troops. Georgia has about 2,000 troops in Iraq, making it the third-largest contributor to coalition forces after the U.S. and Britain.

    South Ossetia officials said Georgia attacked with aircraft, armor and heavy artillery. Georgian troops fired missiles at Tskhinvali, an official said, and many buildings were on fire.

    Georgia's president said Russian aircraft bombed several Georgian villages and other civilian facilities.

    A senior Russian diplomat in charge of the South Ossetian conflict, Yuri Popov, dismissed the Georgian claims of Russian bombings as misinformation, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

    Russia's Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a "dirty adventure." "Blood shed in South Ossetia will weigh on their conscience," the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.

    Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev later chaired a session of his Security Council in the Kremlin, vowing that Moscow will protect Russian citizens.

    "In accordance with the constitution and federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located," Medvedev said, according to Russian news reports. "We won't allow the death of our compatriots go unpunished."

    Saakashvili long has pledged to restore Tbilisi's rule over South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Both regions have run their own affairs without international recognition since splitting from Georgia in the early 1990s and built up ties with Moscow.

    Relations between Georgia and Russia worsened notably this year as Georgia pushed to join NATO and Russia dispatched additional peacekeeper forces to Abkhazia.

    The Georgian attack came just hours after Saakashvili announced a unilateral cease-fire in a television broadcast late Thursday in which he also urged South Ossetian separatist leaders to enter talks on resolving the conflict.

    Georgian officials later blamed South Ossetian separatists for thwarting the cease-fire by shelling Georgian villages in the area.

    Arms Supplies From the West, Ukraine Provoke War in S-Ossetia - Source

    From: IStock
    Massive deliveries of armaments and military hardware are an add-on factor of the Georgian intensified activities in South Ossetia, a high-ranking military diplomat told Interfax-AVN in Moscow on Thursday.

    "A number of Western nations and Ukraine have sold or donated about 400 tanks, armored vehicles, 150 artillery weapons and mortars and dozens of combat helicopters to Georgia in the past few years. The massive deliveries destabilize the regional situation and provoke Georgian authorities to resolve conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force," the source said.

    According to the official information of the Russian Defense Ministry, Georgia has received 206 tanks, including 175 from NATO member countries; 186 armored vehicles (including 126 from NATO); 79 artillery weapons (67 from NATO); 25 helicopters (twelve from NATO); 70 mortars; ten anti-aircraft missile systems; eight unmanned reconnaissance aircraft of the Israeli make; and other armaments. In addition, NATO supplied four warplanes to Georgia.

    The ministry said Georgia was about to receive 145 armored vehicles; 262 artillery weapons and mortars; 14 warplanes, among them four Mirage 2000 fighter jets; 25 combat helicopters, among them 15 U.S. made Black Hawks; six anti-aircraft missile systems and other armaments.

    Georgia receives military aid from the United States, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkey, France, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Israel, Bosnia, Serbia and Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said.

    Georgian President says 'Russia fighting war'

    From: Reuters
    Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Friday that Russia was fighting a war with his country and that Georgians were "looking with hope" to America, but he did not specifically appeal for U.S. help.

    "We have Russian tanks moving in. We have continuous Russian bombardment since yesterday ... specifically targeting the civilian population," Saakashvili said in an interview with CNN.

    "Russia is fighting a war with us in our own territory."

    Russian forces rolled into Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region and were approaching its capital, Tskhinvali, on Friday, Russia's RIA news agency quoted a Russian military commander as saying.

    "This was a very blunt Russian aggression. ... We are right now suffering because we want to be free and we want to be a multiethnic democracy," Saakashvili said in the interview.

    Saakashvili, whose country is pushing to join NATO, said the conflict "is not about Georgia anymore. It's about America, its values."

    "I ... thought that America stands up for those freedom-loving nations and supports them. That's what America is all about. That's why we look with hope at every American," the U.S.-educated president said.

    Neither the White House or the Pentagon had any immediate reaction to the situation. The U.S. Defense Department has less than 120 personnel in Georgia. They are involved in training Georgian forces.

    Saakashvili said Russia had been preparing for the war for years, amassing troops on Georgia's border for months.

    "They made no secret. The are unhappy with our closeness with the United States, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with the West in general," he said.

    The president said Russian artillery had been shelling Georgian positions for weeks, but he ordered a response only after Russian tanks moved in.

    Saakashvili rejected Russian assertions that the fighting was sparked by events in South Ossetia, where Moscow accuses Georgian forces of aggressive action against Russian peacekeepers and others.

    He compared the situation to the Soviet invasions of Afghanistan in 1979 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Georgia and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991.

    "We are in this situation of self-defense against a big and mighty neighbor. We are a country of less than 5 million people and certainly our forces are not comparable," the president said.

    "It would be suicidal for us to provoke Russia."

    Saakashvili said Georgian forces had shot down two Russian aircraft. "One of the aircraft was specifically attacking a civilian hospital wounding doctors and patients with no real purpose," he said.

    Saakashvili said he witnessed a Russian air attack -- two jets flying low, looking for "a marketplace in a very busy afternoon, and hitting it, hitting the crowd of people."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish lobbyist Marek Dochnal has been arrested by the Internal Security Agency.

    From: The News
    Polish lobbyist Marek Dochnal has been arrested by the Internal Security Agency.

    Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski has confirmed that Marek Dochnal was arrested at the request of the Organised Crime Department from the National Prosecutor’s Office in Katowice, southern Poland, Thursday evening, reports the Radio Information Agency (IAR).

    An announcement released by the Internal Security Agency (ABW) informs that Dochnal was arrested as a result of information obtained by ABW that the lobbyist, who has been banned from leaving Poland because of his involvement in alleged corruption scandals, was planning to flee the country using a false identity.

    ABW has denied allegations of Marek Dochnal’s legal counsel, Jacek Gutkowski that his client was arrested when he was dining with his family in a restaurant in the Polish seaside resort of Sopot, “ostentatiously and with the use of force”.

    ABW press officer, Major Katarzyna Koniecpolska-Wroblewska told media that the arrest, “was made in a professional and discrete manner, in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Proceedings”.

    It is thought that the lobbyist was arrested for his involvement in an attempt to sell a group of Polish energy companies, the so-called G-8, to Russians. Allegedly, in order to do that, Dochanl engaged his old contacts among Polish politicians.

    Lobbyist and businessman Marek Dochnal was first arrested in 2004 on charges of bribing a former MP Andrzej Peczak (Democratic Left Alliance - SLD) and money laundering. He was released from detention in February 2008 due to a lack of hard evidence, but was banned from leaving the country.

    Four options await the Ekstraklasa

    From: Soccar News
    The Polish Ekstraklasa should have started a fortnight ago, but thanks to on-going corruption investigations, not a single game has been played.

    This will change shortly, as on Wednesday the two clubs still in limbo (Korona Kielce and Zaglebie Lubin) will find out what league they will be playing in for the 2008/09 season.

    There are four possible outcomes for Poland’s top league from the Tribunal meetings that will occur on Wednesday.

    The first option is that both Korona Kielce and Zaglebie Lubin will be cleared of any wrong doings in the corruption scandal that has rocked Polish soccer this year.

    Both teams, which are currently listed as second league teams but have not played any such matches, will be brought back up to the Ekstraklasa and play in the top-flight.

    This seems to be the most probable outcome when looking at popular opinions throughout the country.

    The only problem with this is that two second division clubs, Piast Gliwice and Arka Gdynia, have already been promised and guaranteed spots in the top-flight.

    If Korona and Zaglebie are reinstated into the Ekstraklasa, the league would increase from 16 teams to 18 teams, something that would cost the league approximately 20 million zloty (6.25 million Euros).

    The second option is that both teams stay down in the second division. This would mean that all schedules stay the same, there are 16 teams in the Ekstraklasa, and that these last two weeks of postponing the season were unnecessary.

    Option three is that one team is sent up, and the other kept down, creating 17 teams in Poland’s top two division (each club would have a bi-week in the schedule).

    The final option is that there is no decision and that the start of the league is once again postponed to a later date, resulting in another weekend without top-flight football in Poland.

    Question is whether the individuals in-charge realize that the domestic league’s reputation has taken a severe hit in recent months and that further postponement would only hurt that reputation even more.

    Polish Train Rams Into Bridge Near Prague; At Least 6 Dead

    From: All Headline
    A Polish train carrying about 400 passengers went off track and hit a bridge 210 miles from Prague. The accident resulted to the death of at least six people.

    Most of the young rail travelers were on their way to attend a music festival in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Polish and Czech rescue teams rushed to the accident site to help the survivors. The injured was estimated at 100 people.

    The international train left Krakow in Poland, headed for Prague, according to police spokeswoman Miroslavva Michalkova-Salkova. She added the number of dead is still tentative as there are reports fatalities has climbed to 10.

    The Polish train was running at 87 miles (140 km) per hour when it hit a portion of a road bridge which fell on the track.

    Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk were reportedly on their way to the accident site.

  • Sport...

    Belarus sends three Olympic Champions to Beijing

    From: European Athletics
    The Belarusian team get suited up in red and white ready to take on the World
    in Beijing.
    Belarus has selected a solid team of 50 athletes including three past and present Olympic Champions to represent this emerging athletics nation in Beijing.

    Reigning Olympic 100m Champion Yulia Nesterenko heads up the high caliber team, ably supported by the women's Discus and Shot Put Champions from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney Australia - Ellina Zvereva and Yanina Pravalinskaja-Karolchik.

    Olympic silver medal Hammer thrower Ivan Tikhon, and double bronze Olympic Discus medallist Irina Yatchenka will also help bolster this experienced Belarusian team.

    47-year-old Discus guru Ellina Zvereva boasts the most titles in the team, she holds Olympic gold (Sydney-2000) Olympic bronze (Atlanta-1996), and World Championship titles (G?teborg-1995, 2001).

    The youngest and most inexperienced team member is 19-year-old Heptathlon silver medallist from this year's World Junior Championships, Yana Maksimava.

    National team coach and Vice-President of the Belarusian Athletic Federation Anatoliy Badoev said,

    "This is the first time in history that Belarus has been able to send such a big team of 50 athletes! Our specialists hope that this Belarusian team could win 5 medals. We are expecting medals from hammer thrower Ivan Tikhon, shot putters Nadzeya Ostapchuk, Natallia Mikhnevich and Andrei Mikhnevich and we are also expecting good results from hammer throwers Vadim Devyatovski, Aksana Menkova, walker Rita Turova and Decathlete Andrei Krauchanka."

    The Belarusian Team


    Marathon Andrey Gordeyev

    110m Hurdles Maksim Lynsha

    Triple Jump Dmitrij Plotnitskiy

    Shot Put Andrey Mikhnevich, Pavel Lyzhin, Yuriy Belov

    Discus Dmitriy Sivakov

    Hammer Ivan Tikhon, Vadim Devyatovskiy, Valeriy Svyatokho

    Javelin Vladimir Kozlov

    Decathlon Andrey Kravchenko, Aleksandr Parkhomenko, Nikolay Shubenok

    20km Walk Ivan Trotskiy, Sergey Chernov, Denis Simanovich

    50km Walk Andrey Stepanchuk


    100m Yulia Nesterenko

    400m Ilona Usovich

    800m Svetlana Usovich

    5,000m Olga Kravtsova

    100m Hurdles Yekaterina Poplavskaya

    Long Jump Olga Sergeyenko, Irina Chernyshenko-Stasyuk

    Triple Jump Kseniya Priyomko

    Shot Put Nadezhda Ostapchuk, Natalya Mikhnevich, Yanina Provalinskaya-Karolchik

    Discus Irina Yatchenko, Elina Zvereva, Anna Mozgunova

    Javelin Natalya Shimchuk, Marina Novik

    Heptathlon Oksana Menkova, Darya Pchelnik, Mariya Smolyachkova,
    Yana Maksimova

    20km Walk Rita Turova, Elena Ginko, Snezhana Yurchenko

    4x100m Relay Nesterenko, Anna Bagdanovich, Oksana Dragun, Anastasiya Shyulak,
    Yevgeniya Volodko, Olga Ostashko

    4x400m Relay Svetlana Usovich, Ilona Usovich, Anna Kozak, Yuiliana Yushchenko,
    Irina Khlyustova, Yekaterina Bobrik

    Australia eases past Belarus 83-64 in Olympic women's basketball opener

    From: Xinhua
    World champion Australia thumped Belarus 83-64 on Saturday in Group A to open the women's basketball competition of the Beijing Olympic Games in the preliminary round.

    The Australian girls, silver medallists four year ago and strong contenders for a gold medal, jumped out to a 16-6 lead after a 5-6 behind only four minutes going to the game and built a 41-24 advantage with 2:40 minutes left in the second quarter before finishing halftime with 44-28.

    Belarus, who was first time to appear at the Olympic Games, never gave up. They cut the gap to 38-48 on a 10-4 run with three minutes into the third period and never closed than double digits.

    It was 66-50 entering the fourth quarter, the Australians extended the margin to 76-53, the biggest one of the game, with six minutes remaining and were never been threatened for their first victory of the preliminary round.

    Lauren Jackson, one of the best center in the world, led four Australians to score double figures with 18 points, followed by Suzy Batkovic 14, with Penny Taylor and Laura Summerton each 12. Australia shot 41 percent from the field (29-of-70 to Belarus' 32 percent (22-of-69) and outrebounded Belarus 48-44 and forced 19 turnovers while committing 14.

    Yelena Leuchanka and Tatyana Troina scored 13 points apiece for Belarus, who will play against Latvia Tuesday. Australis faces Brazil Tuesday in their second preliminary rouand game.

  • Endnote...

    Belarusian Gold

    From: NBC
    Despite only competing as an independant country in three olympiads, Belarusian atheletes have recieved 47 olympic medals overall (6 Gold, 15 Silver and 26 Bronze) placing 40th place amoung all participant countries in the all-time Medal Standings.

    Belarus will have contenders in several throwing events: Ivan Tsikhan (men's hammer world champion), Nadzeya Ostapchuk (women's shot put world silver medalist) and Andrei Mikhnevich (men's shot put world bronze medalist).

    Belarus has won the group bronze medal at the past three rhythmic gymnastics world championship and Inna Zhukova (4th in 2007) is the top individual rhythmic gymnast. Also has contenders in trampoline: Sergei Artemenko is the 2007 world bronze medalist.

    In rowing, after winning single sculls gold in Atlanta and Sydney and silver in Athens, Yekaterina Karsten is the three-time reigning world champion and should be a favorite for gold.

    Belarus will also have medal contenders in wrestling, weightlifting, flatwater, shooting, and modern pentathlon.

    Here are the Belarusian Gold medal winners:
    Yekaterina Karsten won the gold in the single sculls in both Atlanta and in Sydney
    Ellina Zvereva won the women's discus in Sydney
    Yanina Karolchik Won the shot put in Sydney
    Ihar Makarau won the gold in judo in Athens
    Yulia Nesterenko won the women's 100m in Athens