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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kazulin Free, Belarus suspends children’s recreation, Real earnings, Flat tax, Opposition, Olympics, Elections and more Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #334

    Alexander Lukashenko wants measures to secure rapid growth of real earnings

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    President confering state awards on Belarusian olympic athletes last week
    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko demanded that the government should undertake measures to secure a rapid growth of the real earnings of the Belarusians.

    “I want to spell it out for you: the whole state policy revolves around people and their well being. The most important objective therefore is to secure a rapid growth of the real earnings of the population, wages and salaries first and foremost,” the Belarusian head of state noted on August 15, listening to the report of the government on the economic performance of the country in H1 2008.

    Alexander Lukashenko underlined that 2009 is extremely important. “It is the penultimate year of the current five year plan so all the developed plans should be implemented. This is the perspective from which the documents presented today should be analyzed,” the President said. He urged the officials to give a clear account of the new suggestions for the coming year, including the simplification of the taxation system and the reduction of the tax burden on the economy, the formation and efficient use of the budget funds, the improvement of the instruments of the monetary policy.

    The President noted the necessity to objectively estimate the H1 2008 economic performance. “It is worrisome that the government makes a focus on the quantitative indicators of the economic development which are generally fulfilled. As for the quality of the development – which is a number one task – it cannot but worry me that in Q2 2008, the growth of the major branches of the economy was slower than that of Q1,” the President underlined.

    Talking about negative trends, Alexander Lukashenko noted a sizeable deficit in foreign goods and services trade, the increasing cost of banking loans, higher than projected inflation, inefficiency and insolvency of companies and financial instability.

    The head of state underlined that the economy was to be brought to a brand new level through the implementation of strategic programmes. The most important of them are the programmes of innovation development, rural revival, development of small and medium-size towns, energy saving and import substitution. “Unfortunately, the results do not respond to the modern challenges yet, neither do they justify the financial resources spent on theses programmes,” the President stated. In particular, in H1 2008 the agricultural industry failed to meet a most important production growth target. The government, local authorities have to undertake efficient measures to catch up and fulfill the 2008 plan.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted that the discussion of the national rural revival programme held in the Brest oblast “revealed the necessity to work out measures to raise the investment efficiency of all the branches of the domestic economy.” Money squandering and improper expenditure of the budget funds should be stopped, the Belarusian leader said.

    “Does the government see these problems? And what is it going to do to solve them in the future?” the Belarusian head of state asked addressing Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted that while the economic growth in 2008 is projected at 10-11%, the gross domestic product is already up 10.3%, the industrial output 13%, the investment in the fixed capital 22.3%, consumer goods output 14%, real monetary earnings of the population 11.5%.

    No increase in tax burden on Belarusians after flat-rate tax in place

    The tax burden on Belarusians will not increase after the transition to the flat-rate income tax, Belarus Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told a government session held by the head of state on August 15. The session tabled the national economy performance in H1 2008, the draft social and economic development forecast, the budget bill and the draft major national monetary management guidelines for 2009, the press service of the President of Belarus told BelTA.

    He explained, there are plans to introduce 12% flat-rate income tax in 2009. Standard tax deductions from certain population categories will be increased in order to prevent the tax burden on the population from growing.

    Andrei Kharkovets remarked in 2009 the decrease in the tax burden on the economy will make 1.2 percentage points of the GDP, leaving Br2 trillion for corporations. All in all the tax reform will cancel 20 taxes leaving 27, including 6 main ones.

    In 2009 revenues of the consolidated budget are supposed to make Br72.7 trillion, expenses — Br75.5 trillion.

    The 2009 budget will stay dedicated to social protection, with 63.3% of the expenses directed to social needs. Funding for healthcare, education and social policy will be increased. The share of salaries, pensions and scholarships will make 46% in the expenses.

    The budget will be used to slow down the growth of electricity charges for individuals and to subsidise the payment of household services. As a result, individuals are expected to pay 32% of the actual expenses (36% and 34% in 2007 and 2008 respectively).

    The next year’s budget is supposed to allocate Br4.4 trillion for the agribusiness development and Br10.6 trillion for the implementation of 61 state programmes.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Gross harvest yield in Belarus amounts to 6.7 million tonnes

    From: BelTA
    As of August 15 2008, the gross grain harvest in Belarus has reached 6.660 million tonnes vs. 6.617 million tonnes from the same period of 2007. The agricultural enterprises of the Brest, Gomel and Grodno oblasts improved their last year’s result, too, BelTA learnt from the main plant growing department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

    The Minsk oblast has cropped 1.655 million tonnes of grain (1.8 million tonnes in 2007), the Grodno oblast 1.3 million tonnes. The top three also includes the Brest oblast with 1.1 million tonnes. The Gomel and Mogilev oblasts are expected to harvest 1 million tonnes by the end of August 15. The Vitebsk oblast has cropped 684 thousand tonnes.

    By August 16, the gross grain harvest in Belarus may exceed 7 million tonnes due to a fast pace of harvesting – 4.5%, and in the Minsk, Grodno and Mogilev oblasts – more than 5%.

    All in all, Belarus has harvested 76.5% of the total area under grain crops and leguminous plants. The Gomel oblast harvested 91.2% of the cropping area, Brest oblast 86%, Grodno 78.2%, Minsk 74%, Mogilev 72%, Vitebsk 59%. 90 combined harvesters will be sent to the Vitebsk oblast by those enterprises of the Brest and Gomel oblasts that have already finished the harvesting campaign. These harvesters will be delivered to five northern regions of the Vitebsk oblast. They are to start their work on August 18.

    The efficiency of the harvesting campaign can be accounted for by good weather, skilled organization of the campaign, coordinated work of the agricultural and engineering services.

    According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, by the end of this week, Belarus will harvest about 85% of the area under grain crops and by August 20 it will complete harvesting the spiked cereals. By the end of this week, the Brest and Gomel oblasts are to finish grain harvesting.

    CSTO urges Georgia to stop military actions in South Ossetia

    From: BelTA
    The heads of the parliaments of the CSTO member states urged Georgia to abandon plans to carry out military operations in South Ossetia. “We are also appealing to the heads of international parliamentary organizations to give a proper assessment of the policy pursued by Georgia leadership,” says the statement of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

    According to the document, Georgia’s military actions in South Ossetia “have been planned”. “In recent times, the actions of the Georgian leadership contradicted the opinion and position of the majority of the CIS member states. The military operation in South Ossetia was undertaken without notifying the CIS where Georgia is also a member,” the statement says.

    The CSTO Parliamentary Assembly underlines that the military activities of Tbilisi ruined the political dialogue between the sides that was beginning to show, it destroyed the prospects for the peaceful settlement of the conflict.

    The CSTO is composed of Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    No objective necessity to deploy missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Belarus' Foreign Ministry says

    There is no objective necessity to deploy the missile defense system in Eastern Europe, deputy head of the information department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Maria Vanshina told BelTA while commenting on the reprots on the USA-Poland agreement to deploy the missile defense system in Poland.

    “The Belarusian side has repeatedly voiced its position on the issue, including at the highest level. We believe there is no objective necessity to deploy air defence installations in Eastern Europe,” The Foreign Ministry of Belarus highlighted.

    Belarus sends humanitarian aid to South Ossetia

    Belarus has sent a humanitarian aid to South Ossetia. The humanitarian mission is led by head of the special operation department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry Alexander Shamko.
    “The cargo will be delivered to South Ossetia within 2-3 days. It will be handed over to the Administration of South Ossetia. The Belarusian and Russian Emergencies Ministries are in close cooperation. The Russian Emergencies Ministry will help us to protect and transport the cargo via the territory of the Russian Federation,” First Deputy Emergencies Minister of Belarus Valentin Karpitsky told reporters.

    The humanitarian cargo is transported by seven trucks. 18 specialists of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry take part in the operation. Belarus will ship tinned meat and milk, 10 tonnes of sugar and 10 tonnes of dry milk as well as household soap and semi-worsted blankets, all in all, worth Br449.9 million.

    Belarus suspends children’s recreation in USA

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is suspending programmes for children’s recreation in the USA, BelTA learnt from the Humanitarian Affairs Department of the Belarus President Administration.

    “In view of the illegal detention of underage Belarusian citizen Tatiana Kozyro, who stayed in the city of Petaluma, California, for recreation in order to rule out such situations in the future Belarus suggests signing an intergovernmental agreement on conditions of recreation of underage Belarusian citizens in the United States of America. The draft agreement will be forwarded to the US side soon,” said the source. It added until the agreement is signed, Belarus is forced to suspend the programmes for children’s recreation in the USA.

  • Economics...

    Negotiations on new Russian stabilisation loan for Belarus to take another 2-3 months

    From: BelTA
    Negotiations on providing a stabilisation loan to Belarus by Russia will continue for another 2-3 months, Belarus Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told reporters in Minsk on August 15.

    He noted relevant negotiations continue. Experts have done their job, specified the minister. In his words, the process will take another two-three months.

    BelTA reported earlier, in 2007 Russia provided a $1.5 billion stabilisation loan to Belarus. At present the possibility of providing a new loan is discussed.

    Belarus shows readiness to sell enterprise assets

    Belarus demonstrates the readiness to sell enterprise assets to investors, Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told reporters on August 15.

    “Now we show to investors that the country is ready to sell its assets. We also made it clear that we are ready to sell shares of our companies. The information is available to investors now and will allow holding tenders for those willing to acquire property in Belarus in a fair and open manner,” he stressed.

    The size of earnings from privatising assets is not the point yet, added the minister. “We create favourable conditions for investors and also offer interesting objects one can put money into,” stressed Andrei Kharkovets. The implementation of the privatisation plan in 2008-2010 will depend on what investors will come to Belarus and whether they will be interested by the offers.

    The minister also underscored the importance of developing the country’s financial market. Not many novelties are planned. Nevertheless, Belarus has plans to reach foreign markets of mutual lending, i.e. plans to attract financial resources and offer its own assets.

    In H1 Belarus trades with 171 countries

    In H1 2008 Belarus traded with 171 countries. The goods were exported to 128 countries and imported from 157, BelTA was told in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In January-June Belarus’ trading partners were Russia (49% of the total trade), the Netherlands (9.2%), Ukraine (6.9%), Germany (4.5%), Poland (3.9%), Latvia (3.1%), the UK (2.6%), China (2%) and also Brazil and Italy.

    According to the Statistics Ministry, over the six months the exports to Russia were up 42% to $5.58 billion accounting for 32.3% of the total exports. Exports to the Netherlands increased 68.8% to $3.2 billion (18.6% of the total exports), Ukraine 2.6 times to $1.5 billion (8.7%).

    All in all, in H1 Belarus’ international trade was up 58.5% to $36.76 billion. Exports surged 61.8% to $17.273 billion, imports 55.7% to $19.488 billion.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus bans children's trips

    From: press democrat
    Tanya Kazyra a 16-year-old from Borisov, Belarus, wants to stay in Petaluma with the host family she has visited for nine summers
    Belarus on Thursday halted youth humanitarian trips to the United States following a furor that unfolded when a teenager visiting Petaluma for the summer refused to go home.

    The ban on travel for respite programs for children living in the path of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster will affect about 1,400 young people nationwide, hosting organizations said.

    "It's what we feared from the beginning," said Rosey Erickson, president of Petaluma-based Chernobyl Children's Project, which brought 16-year-old Tanya Kazyra and 24 other children to the North Bay in June.

    She criticized Manuel and Debra Zapata of Petaluma, who have been sponsoring Kazyra's visits the past nine summers and encouraged her refusal to return to her home in Borisov, Belarus. Kazyra remained at the Zapatas' eastside home Thursday.

    "It is what we have tried feverishly to avoid by taking necessary steps to facilitate Tanya's safe and expeditious return to her grandma in Belarus," Erickson said.

    Oleg Kravchenko, charge d'affaires at the Belarus Embassy in Washington, said that barring a guarantee from the United States that a similar incident won't happen again, all such trips are stopped.

    "When an agreement is concluded, the trips may be recommended again," Kravchenko said. "For now, all trips are prohibited."

    A spokeswoman for the State Department's European affairs bureau confirmed the travel ban. It did not appear the action would have broader diplomatic repercussions, she said.

    Relations between the United States and the former Soviet country already are strained, she said.

    It was the first case of its kind in the country since programs began in 1991, said Cecelia Calhoun, Belarus liaison for the national Children of Chernobyl U.S. Alliance. A family in Italy tried to keep a child in 2006.

    She said the Zapatas appear to have jeopardized what has been a beneficial experience for thousands of children and dashed the hopes of families seeking to reunite with them.

    "It's very unfortunate that this Petaluma family has decided to keep this girl and for Tanya not to return home," Calhoun said. "Certainly, it will have an impact on all the other Belarusian children who have enjoyed health respites. They may no longer get to do that."

    A lawyer for the family and Kazyra called the decision punitive and unnecessary.

    Immigration attorney Christopher Kerosky said Kazyra has a legal right to remain in the country as well as permission from her grandmother, who is her guardian.

    He said she would continue to pursue an extension of her visa, which expires in December.

    "I would just say the family believes it's a shame if the Belarusian government takes any actions against existing or future programs for young children based on the decision of one girl," Kerosky said. "It's a shame and a tragedy, and there's no reason for it."

    The Zapatas didn't return calls and Kazyra didn't respond to a request for comment. But Ashley Zapata, the 18-year-old daughter of the host family, said the Belarusian response was wrong.

    "It's like a game to them," Zapata said. "They want to win the game."

    The Chernobyl Children's Project was founded five years after the 1986 disaster, which spread contamination across the Ukrainian border into Belarus. It is one of about 40 similar organizations in the United States.

    Children visit for six weeks each summer and stay with families who provide medical checkups and share American culture.

    Kazyra visited the Zapatas nine summers and was in her last year of eligibility.

    She has called the Zapatas her "true family" and said her Belarusian parents were abusive. The Zapatas have said Kazyra might attend school in Petaluma this fall but have no plans beyond that.

    However, Belarus officials and hosting organizations said she was obligated to return with her group on Aug. 5.

    Her failure to show up for a flight at San Francisco International Airport touched off an international brouhaha. Belarusian and U.S. officials converged last week on the Petaluma Police Department, where they interviewed the family and Kazyra about her intentions. Russian-language TV crews reported to audiences half a world away.

    The Belarusian Embassy officials said Thursday that although Kazyra has approval from her grandmother to stay in the United States, she cannot do so because she is a minor and was granted a visa on condition she return.

    Kravchenko said he sent letters to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, urging their help in getting her home.

    Woolsey did not return calls Thursday.

    He said another envoy, the Belarusian minister of foreign affairs, was on his way to Petaluma this weekend to try to convince Kazyra to change her mind.

    "We want her to come back," he said. "If she returns, she will not be subject to any persecution and she can return to the U.S. after she has her documents processed and receives a proper visa."

    If Kazyra remains in Petaluma, future youth trips will be halted until the United States signs an agreement that it will be responsible for returning the visitors, Kravchenko said.

    Belarus made the same demand of Italy two years ago. The travel ban was lifted in months, Kravchenko said.

    "A person cannot solve his or her immigration aspirations by coming to the U.S. in this type of group," Kravchenko said.

    Michelle Carter, author of the book "Children of Chernobyl, Raising Hope from the Ashes," said the summer trips get children away from harmful radiation found in such things as fruit and milk that can cause cancer and other diseases. The goal is to give the children's immune systems a chance to recover, she said.

    But she said as the last totalitarian government in Europe, Belarus does not like the Western influence on its children and has stood in the way of her efforts to bring cancer medicine into the country.

    In an ongoing dispute with the United States, it ejected a number of U.S. officials from the embassy in March and recently made it difficult for its citizens to travel to the United States.

    She said the Petaluma incident could only make matters worse. She questioned whether children would ever be permitted to come to the country again.

    "The situation with Belarus and the U.S. is so tenuous right now that this in fact may be the end," Carter said. "They may have found the opportunity to say, 'No more.' "

    Belarus Frees Opposition Politician Kazulin From Prison

    From: New York Times
    Belarus, a former Soviet republic that is considered to have one of the world’s most authoritarian governments, on Saturday released its most prominent opposition politician from prison, where he had been serving a lengthy sentence for leading antigovernment protests, officials said.

    The opposition figure, Aleksandr V. Kazulin, was freed after months of pressure from the United States and the European Union on Belarus’s president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

    Relations between Belarus and the West have grown more strained as Washington has stepped up sanctions in an effort to compel Mr. Lukashenko to curb political repression.

    Mr. Lukashenko is often described as a throwback to a Soviet-style leader who keeps control with the help of a security agency, which is still called the K.G.B.

    The war in nearby Georgia has sent tremors through relations between Russia and other former Soviet republics and satellites, but American officials said on Saturday that they believed that Mr. Kazulin’s release was not related to the conflict.

    Belarus and Russia have had generally good relations and have often talked in recent years about forming an official union.

    Even so, Russia has expressed some displeasure in recent days that the Lukashenko government has not offered more vocal support for the Russian side in the Georgia conflict.

    Belarus is to hold parliamentary elections next month. Mr. Lukashenko has pledged that they will be free and fair, and Mr. Kazulin’s release may be related to the government’s attempt to try to improve Belarus’s image before the voting.

    On Saturday, Mr. Kazulin did not make any remarks upon leaving the Vitba 3 prison, officials said.

    Jonathan Moore, the senior United States diplomat in Belarus’s capital, Minsk, said in a telephone interview that the release of Mr. Kazulin “was an important step in improving the human rights situation in Belarus.”

    In answer to American sanctions, Belarus has expelled many United States diplomats, and there is no American ambassador in Minsk.

    The United States imposed the sanctions against Mr. Lukashenko and other senior officials after the police arrested protesters at demonstrations in response to the 2006 presidential election. Last year, the Treasury Department froze the assets of the state energy and chemical company, Belneftekhim.

    Mr. Kazulin, 52, a former Lukashenko ally, turned against him and ran in the presidential election, which was described by election observers as rigged in Mr. Lukashenko’s favor.

    Mr. Kazulin was arrested and sentenced to five and a half years in prison.

    He was briefly released in February to attend the funeral of his wife, Irina, who died of cancer. He had threatened a hunger strike if he was not allowed to go.

    US applauds Belarus release of opposition politician

    In a related AP story, Washington welcomed Saturday the release of Belarus' highest-profile political prisoner, former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.

    "The United States welcomes the release today of Belarus political opposition figure Alexander Kozulin," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.

    "We look forward to other positive steps from the Belarusian authorities that could open the possibility of a significant improvement in relations between the United States and Belarus," McCormack said.

    Relations between Washington and Minsk have been strained especially since the 2006 reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko, when rival candidate Kozulin was jailed after leading a protest over alleged corruption in the polling.

    Belarus Sends Aid After Reproach

    From: The Moscow Times
    Belarussian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said Thursday that his country had sent humanitarian aid to victims of fighting in South Ossetia and was ready to host several thousand children over the next two months.

    "We in the government have taken measures," Sidorsky told Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow. "Today we've sent vehicles with humanitarian cargo."

    Belarus offered its sympathy and assistance in Moscow's conflict with Georgia after Russian authorities earlier this week reproached Minsk for offering what they called "modest silence." The West has condemned Russia for the fighting over Georgia's breakaway republic.

    Putin, who met Sidorsky to discuss a "union state," said economic ties were developing well and that an intergovernmental commission would meet in late September or early October.

    President Dmitry Medvedev, who was scheduled to go on a working vacation to Sochi on Thursday, is to meet Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday, Putin said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Homel: procuracy upholds dismissal from work for oppositional pretender for candidate

    From: Viasna
    One of the tendencies of electoral campaign’2008 is that potential candidates that are not nominated by the regime are threatened with dismissal from work or even dismissed. The law enforcing agencies usually close their eyes to such actions. One of the latest exampled is the reaction of the procuracy to the dismissal threats received by a pretender for candidate at Buda-Kashaliova constituency Kanstantsin Zhukouski.

    On 21 July the director of the Interhran enterprise V.Minchanka summonsed K.Zhukouski, who had registered his initiative group and started collecting signatures for his candidacy. Minchanka told Zhukouski to revoke his application for registration of the initiative group or resign from work. He also referred to some ‘third persons’ who proposed that he held such a talk with his employee. Mr. Zhukouski considered such actions of ‘third persons’ as pressurization. He addressed Tsentralny district procuracy of Homel and asked to hold a check-up on this fact and punish the guilty.

    The procuracy had to react to Zhukouski’s application. Here’s an excerpt from the answer, signed by the district procurator, senior justice advisor V.Yemialyianchanka: ‘The director of Interhran Minchanka was questioned and explained that there was no threats or pressurization from any third persons and that he could not say to you anything of the kind. As You are dealing with collection of signatures in support of your candidacy, Minchanka recommended that You should find another place of work, at which You could maintain Your activities as deputy without any harm to the main work. Thus, the conducted check-up revealed no facts of violation of the law on elections or labor or Your right to realize your electoral rights. There are no reasons for prosecutorial reaction.’

    Lawyer and human rights activist Uladizmir Labkovich comments: ‘Pitifully enough, the procuracy took no measures of prosecutorial reaction, which it was to have done in this case. There is also a violation of the labor legislation, because participation in elections cannot be a reason for dismissal. It is also ridiculous to hear from a lawyer that Zhukouski was just proposed to change the job, which would let him more effectively implement his duties as a deputy. Zhukouski is not even a candidate for deputy yet. It is a pity that procurator Yemialyianenka does not know that according to the Belarusian laws an elected deputy cannot combine his activities as such with any other work except for educational or scientific. In my opinion, it is worth appealing to the oblast procuracy against the actions of the district procuracy.’

    Hungarian ambassador: EU does not pursue double standards policy regarding Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    The European Union does not pursue a double standards policy regarding Belarus, Hungarian Ambassador Ferenc Kontra told reporters in Minsk on Friday, BelaPAN said.

    “One or two countries can be mistaken in their policy regarding a certain state, but since the entire European community sees that there is something wrong with Belarus’ attitude to our common values, I think that all these countries cannot be mistaken,” the ambassador said. “Belarus should look for the reason in itself.”

    Mr. Kontra noted that Hungary, as a member of the EU, should follow the bloc’s common policy with regard to Belarus. “For example, there exists a list of 41 Belarusian officials who are banned from entering the EU,” he said. “The European Union considers these people involved in some events in Belarus that are not only unwelcome but also intolerable in Europe at present. In particular, these are disappearances of people and violence against opposition politicians.”

    Mr. Kontra also noted that political contacts between the EU and Belarus are limited. “The EU member countries may not have contacts with Belarus at the level of ministers, but we are ready for contacts at the level of deputy ministers or state secretaries in order to develop relations,” he said. “As soon as the Belarusian side has a real intention to cooperate and establish contacts and makes the necessary steps for this, we are ready to begin a dialogue.”

  • Around the region...

    Bush tells Russia to get out of Georgia

    From: AP
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, joins President Bush as they speak to reporters at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. Bush sent a stern warning to Russia that it cannot lay claim to two breakaway provinces in neighboring Georgia, a U.S. ally.
    President Bush warned Russia on Saturday against trying to pry loose two separatist regions in Georgia and said Moscow must end military operations in the West-leaning democracy that once was part of the Soviet empire.

    Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's signing of a cease-fire plan with Georgia was "a hopeful step." But Russia's vision of Georgia without the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a nonstarter, the president said.

    "These regions are a part of Georgia and the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so," said Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his side. "There's no room for debate on this matter."

    The long-simmering dispute over those breakaway areas turned to war this month after Georgia launched a massive barrage to try to take control of South Ossetia. The Russian army quickly overwhelmed the Georgian forces and drove deep into its neighbor.

    Russia's attack has caused serious strains in relations with the West and heightened fears in the young democracies of Eastern Europe.

    Bush discussed the situation for nearly an hour with Rice, who arrived at the ranch around 5:30 a.m. local time from a quick trip to Georgia. They were joined via secured videoconference from Washington by other members of Bush's national security team, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Bush also spoke to Georgian President Mikhail Saakshvili, reiterating U.S. support.

    The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said this past week that Georgia could "forget about" getting back South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which sympathize with Moscow. Medvedev recently met at the Kremlin with leaders from those regions, raising the prospect Russia could absorb them.

    Bush countered that Georgia's borders need to be respected. He said the U.N. Security Council had passed numerous resolutions based on the premise that South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain within Georgia and that international negotiations seek to resolve conflicts in those areas. "Russia itself has endorsed these resolutions," Bush said.

    The chilling of relations between Washington and Moscow comes as the U.S. is sealing the deal on a missile shield in Europe — an issue already unraveling ties between the two former Cold War foes. Poland and the U.S. signed an agreement Thursday for Poland to accept a missile interceptor base as part of a system the U.S. says is aimed at blocking attacks by adversaries such as Iran. The missile deal awaits approval by Poland's parliament and signing by Rice during a future visit to Warsaw, possibly in the week ahead.

    Moscow feels it is aimed at Russia's missile force. A Russian general was quoted by Interfax News Agency on Friday as saying that by deploying the system, Poland is "exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent."

    Keeping up the pressure on Russia, Rice plans to go to Belgium this coming week for meetings with the foreign ministers of NATO allies and European Union officials to underscore support for Georgia. Bush, who discussed Georgia in calls Saturday to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Latvia President Valdis Zatlers, is expected to continue his telephone diplomacy while on vacation.

    At the request of Saakshvili, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., scheduled a trip to Georgia this weekend for meetings with government officials as well as citizens forced to flee their homes.

    Rice says the time had come to talk about the consequences Russia should suffer as a result of its actions in Georgia, yet she declined to possible repercussions it could face.

    At the end, perhaps the only thing Russia will have proved is that "they can use their overwhelming regional military power to beat up on a small neighbor," she said.

    "I don't think that's actually a very good place from which to proceed on an argument that Russia ought to be considered a responsible member of the international system."

    When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, it occupied the capital, overthrew the government and paid no consequence because it did not care about its international standing, Rice said. "That's not Russia of 2008," she said, adding that Medvedev recently outlined a forward-looking strategy for Russia and its further integration into the international economy. "That's at stake."

    The cease-fire deal, which Saakshvili signed Friday after lengthy talks with Rice, calls for both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted Aug. 8.

    Russian forces withdrew Saturday from the center of a town not far from Tbilisi, the capital. But Lavrov suggested there would be no immediate broader withdrawal. Lavrov said Russia would strengthen its peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia, and that afterward, Russian forces sent in to handle the conflict would be withdrawn.

    Asked how much time that would take, he responded: "As much as is needed."

    Rice bristled at this, saying that the text of the cease-fire agreement, negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current leader of the European Union, outlined a very limited mandate only for Russian peacekeepers who were in Georgia at the time hostilities escalated. She said the agreement specifies that these initial peacekeepers can have limited patrols in a prescribed area within the conflict zone and would not be allowed to go into Georgian urban areas or tie up a cross-country highway.

    According to Rice, Medvedev told Sarkozy that the minute the Georgian president signed the cease-fire agreement, Russian forces would begin to withdraw.

    "So, from my point of view — and I am in contact with the French — the Russians are perhaps already not honoring their word," Rice said.

    But she added that now that the Russian president had signed it too, she expects Russian forces to withdraw expeditiously.

    Russia denies troop withdrawal from South Ossetia

    From: canadian press
    A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman is denying reports that Russian troops are pulling out of Georgia's separatist-held region of South Ossetia.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, the spokesman says a withdrawal is "being considered" but has not begun.

    South Ossetia's Interior Minister, Mikhail Mindzayev, speaking by phone from the Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, also denies a withdrawal is under way.

    Earlier Sunday, Russian army Maj. Gen. Vyachislav Borisov said outside the Georgian city of Gori that some Russian troops are withdrawing from South Ossetia.

    That followed conflicting reports from Russian news agencies about whether pullout of some non-essential troops had begun.

    Russian forces poured into South Ossetia from Russia last week to repel a Georgian offensive, leading to full combat between Russia and Georgia.

    Ukraine to open defences to West

    From: al jazeera
    Ukraine is prepared to open its missile defence network to co-operation with European and other foreign powers, the ex-Soviet republic's foreign ministry has said.

    The ministry said on Saturday, that the demise of a bilateral Russian-Ukrainian defence agreement earlier this year "allows Ukraine to establish active co-operation with European countries".

    The offer came as Poland finalised an agreement to host elements of a US missile defence shield that Moscow describes as a threat to its national security.

    Ukraine's foreign ministry said Kiev could invite European partners to integrate their early warning systems against missile attacks.

    Ukraine is also ready to deal with "foreign countries interested in getting information about the situation in space," the ministry statement said.

    Russia's parliament voted to withdraw from a bilateral missile radar accord in January in response to Ukraine's application for membership of the Nato military alliance.

    Symbolic gesture

    Analysts say the gesture is symbolic and that Ukraine is trying to show support for Georgia and move closer to the West in choosing alliances and overseeing its security.

    A ministry statement said that because Russia pulled out of the agreement earlier this year, it allowed Ukraine to co-operate with other countries.

    "The fact that Ukraine is no longer a party to the ... 1992 agreement allows it to launch active co-operation with European countries to integrate its stations with ... governments with an interest in receiving data of the situation in space," it said.

    Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's president, issued a decree this week putting an end to Ukraine's participation in the 1992 accord with Russia.

    Ukraine's pro-Western leadership, brought to power by "Orange Revolution" protests in 2004 and committed to securing Nato membership, has been increasingly at odds with Russia on a range of foreign policy issues.

    Yushchenko has been critical of Russia's position in its conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia.

    A presidential decree this week obliged commanders of Russia's Black Sea fleet, based in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, to seek permission before moving warships and aircraft.

    Moscow denounced the move as "anti-Russian" and said its commanders would disregard the order as its forces answered solely to the Russian president.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poles become less optimistic

    From: The News
    A recent opinion poll shows that an increasing number of Poles are dissatisfied by what's going on in their country.

    According to the CBOS research centre, Poles are most critical of Poland's political situation - only one in ten respondents said that they are satisfied with it.

    Only one third of respondents (33 percent, a fall of three percent since July) think that Poland is heading in a good direction, while almost half of respondents (48 percent) think otherwise.

    The CBOS poll states that the forecasts about the development of Poland's general situation next year are a little worse than last month and thus the worst since August 2007.

    The pessimists slightly outnumber the optimists - 22 percent think that the situation will worsen next year, while 20 percent count on it getting better. The majority, 47 percent, think that everything will stay as it is.

    Although parliament is in recess, the
    ountry's political situation is assessed very critically. Almost half of respondents (46 percent, an increase of 6 percent since July) considers what is happening on the political scene as bad. Only ten percent of Poles are satisfied. CBOS says that the last time Poles had such a negative opinion about Polish politics was just before last year's parliamentary elections.

    Poland (of course) has one of the fastest growing alcohol markets

    From: wbj
    According to the latest report published by Nielsen, Poland is one of the top five countries in the world when it comes to recording alcohol sales growth
    Expenditures on alcohol are only growing faster in Ukraine, Venezuela, Argentina and Russia. The report stated that the sales of alcohol grew in Poland last year by 15 percent on average, with sales of vodka going up by 17 percent, reaching zl.8 billion in value. One of the reasons for the growing spending on alcohol is its increasing price.

    According to data from Euromonitor International, further growth in sales should be expected in the future. The forecasts state that on average a Pole will spend euro 103 annually on alcohol within five years, an increase of a third on today's spending.

  • Sport...

    Andrei Rybakov wins weightlifting silver medal at Beijing-2008

    From: BelTA
    Two-time world champion Andrei Rybakov from Belarus won the silver medal in the 85kg weight category at the Olympic Games 2008. He was second at Athens-2004 too.

    Andrei Rybakov and Lu Yong from China pressed the same weight of 394kg on both lifts. In the end, the Chinese athlete won the gold medal thanks to a 0.28kg body weight advantage.

    During the competition the 26-year-old Belarusian set a new Olympic record by pressing 185kg in the Snatch and broke his own world record the Clean and Jerk (209kg). The Chinese athlete, however, scored the same result after his final attempt.

    Andrei Rybakov’s silver medal is the third medal of the Belarusian team. Anastasia Novikova claimed a bronze in the 53kg weightlifting category and Mikhail Semenov was third in the Greco-Roman wrestling (66kg category).

    Belarus defeats ROK for first ever quarterfinal trip

    From: Beijing 2008
    Belarus trailed earlier in the match but bounced back to defeat the Republic of Korea 63-53 in the preliminary round of the Olympic Women's Basketball tournament on Friday, August 15.

    Belarus forward Katsiaryna Snytsina was the top scorer of the game, netting 15 points with five rebounds. Anastasiya Verameyenka came just behind her teammate with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

    It was actually the Asian champion who built up the first lead on a 9-0 run in the beginning, but the ROK was only able to take a three-point lead into the second period at 15-12. Belarus soon bounced back to gain the upper hand, going to the half at 33-28. They stayed above the ROK the rest of the game to close it 63-53.

    The ROK's loss was partly due to its poor shooting percentage from behind the arc, hitting four of 27 compared to five of 28 by Belarus.

    "They were looking for that long three each time down the court," said Belarus forward Tatyana Troina. "But it wasn't their night tonight. It's lucky for us, because those shots are hard to defend."

    Belarus had a height advantage over the ROK, allowing them to score more inside. "They are taller than us, and their offense in the paint zone is good," Park Jun-geun commented on her opponents. "Also, our stamina cannot match up with theirs. It was already late when the game started, and this affected us as well."

    ROK captain Jung Sun-min tied with teammate Lee Mi-sun, each contributing 10 points. Beon Yeon-ha scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds.

  • Cultural scene...

    Actors from 'oppressive' Belarus in Kilkenny

    From: Irish Times
    A GROUP of actors who are to perform at the Kilkenny Arts Festival this weekend, say they are banned from performing in their own country.

    Members of the Belarus Free Theatre have been arrested, thrown in prison, fired from their jobs and have even lost their homes because of their involvement with the group.

    The actors, who are forced to play in woods and secret locations in their native Belarus, say they want Irish people to understand the reality of living in "an oppressive and dangerous dictatorship".

    "It is prohibited in Belarus to talk on contemporary issues of the world and particularly of those of our own country," said Natalia Kiliada, group producer.

    The 12-member group, who play for three nights at the Arts Festival this weekend, say they live in Europe's last dictatorship.

    "Europe needs to understand that Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe and only when this ends will Europe be completely free of dictators for the first time," said Ms Kiliada.

    All forms of free speech and independent theatre are silenced in Belarus under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko, who is barred from entering the US and the EU.

    "The only way for us to perform is to go underground and so free public space exists only underground in Belarus," she added.

    "I cry when I go abroad because my parents are not with me and they will never live the normal, calm life we witness overseas," said Ms Kiliada.

    The Belarus Free Theatre will appear at Kilkenny's Watergate Theatre from Friday, August 15- 17th.

  • Endnote...

    Kazulin is free

    From: Viasna
    Today Aliaksandar Kazulin has been released from Vitsba-3 prison.

    He was serving the 5.5-year prison term, allegedly for hooliganism, after challenging Aliaksandar Lukashenka during the presidential election.

    Kazulin was granted pardon by special edict, signed by Lukashenka on Friday.

    Kazulin’s brother Uladzimir explains, yesterday Aliaksandar’s father-in-law died. This morning Kazulin was called to the prison’s administration, where he was informed about the death of his father-in-law and read the pardon order. However, Kazulin did not sign the agreement for pardon. He is not going to do that because he would admit his guilt by doing that. The prison administration released him without his signature – to participate in the funeral. It is still possible that after the funeral Aliaksandar will insist on returning to prison, Uladzimir Kazulin says.

    The family of Kazulin hope that in any way the case will end up with complete release of Aliaksandar. The hopes for release were based on the talks on the corridors between the German Embassy and Lukashenka’s Office which continued last week. It is rumored that in their trade with the West the authorities were ready to release a group of political prisoners in exchange for some benefits.

    The release of political prisoners, including Kazulin, is one of the main demands of the United Democratic Forces, the European Union and the United States. In winter, during the previous release of political prisoners, the authorities released almost everyone, with the exception of Kazulin.

    When asked why Aliaksandar has been released now, his brother Uladzimir said: “Ambassadors’ visits to the President’s Office have started quite some time ago…”

    The US embassy chief of mission Jonathan Moore greeted the release of Kazulin as the “first important step from the side of the Belarusian authorities”.

    The German ambassador was not available for comments today. Lukashenka’s press service kept the usual silence.

    Kazulin’a father-in-law was Ivan Sabaleuski. He will be buried in Koidanava (Dziarzhynsk), on Sunday morning. He did not survive the loss of his daughter.