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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Elections day in Belarus, Conferment of state awards, Observers in Minsk, Opposition boycott; Economics, Politics, Russia, Polish scandal and Sports

  • From the Top...
  • #347

    Belarus President: remoteness from nation is key reason for opposition failure

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko the ceremony of conferment of state awards this week
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes the key reason behind political failures of the Belarusian opposition is the opposition’s remoteness from the nation. The head of state made the statement in an interview with Western Europe mass media.

    “Here is a man who rose to power from opposition. I wasn’t in power, I rose to power from opposition. It wasn’t systematic. Nevertheless, a small group of politicians, who were together with Lukashenko, won. Do you think we had an easy time back then? Who can have an easy time fighting for power during elections in Germany or the United Kingdom? It is a no-nonsense competition. Even in the old democratic states. Do you know why Lukashenko and his associates won at that time? Because we wanted to. Sincerely and honestly we went with our ideas to the nation. We asked money from no-one neither you nor Russia,” said the President.

    “If we couldn’t get to a meeting with electors in some area by car, figuratively speaking, we went on foot. We used the public transport. But the present-day oppositionists are accustomed to comfort. In our country the nation sees it all. They are too far away from the nation. And it is the key reason why they can’t reach their goal,” added the head of state.

    “I would like to repeat you should decide whether they want the authority or not. Authority is a great responsibility,” underscored the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Europe has no variants apart from denying visas to Belarus’ officials

    “There are no other variants and reasons for Europe. It seems to me that recently the officials in Brussels have understood it and expressed readiness to normalize the relations with Belarus after the parliamentary elections. We will see how Europe will behave after the elections,” the Belarusian leader said.

    The President praised a high level of transparency and democracy of the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, an important political event that is often linked with the prospects of further development of the relations between Belarus and the European Union. “The elections in Belarus are highly democratic and transparent. You will give an impartial assessment to it,” the Belarusian leader said.

    “I will say: if the elections in Belarus are not recognized again, it is no use of trying to convince Europe that Belarus is the center of Europe and a very important state for Russia,” Alexander Lukashenko concluded.

    Is there a possibility of Russian military action against Belarus?

    “No doubt that it comes from our opposition who cries “today - Georgia, tomorrow - Belarus”. They say that tomorrow Russia can deal with Belarus the same way. This statement is absolutely groundless,” the President said.

    The Head of State briefed: “God forbid Russia to solve any problems with Belarus this way. Only then the world community and, first of all, Europeans would have a good reason to show Russia its place”.

    According to the Belarusian leader, Russia understands it. Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that a military conflict between Belarus and Russia is basically impossible. “A Russian person, a military, cannot hold a Belarusian at gunpoint. We are very close to each other. A military conflict is ruled out,” the President of Belarus said.

    “And, despite Gazprom statements, we continue the negotiationswith them. You should understand: if Russia is going to pursue such policy towards Belarus (That of demanding theat Belarus pay the same price as Europe), we will respond to it in an appropriate manner,” the Belarusian leader said. He emphasized that Belarus and Russia “can come to an agreement”.

    According to the President, “there are enough reasons that prove Belarus to be an important factor for Russia, especially today”. “We receive hydrocarbons at a lower price, and Russia exports from Belarus at prices considerably lower that the global ones. Especially it concerns foodstuffs,” he said.

    The Head of State said that “it is not to the benefit of Russia to see our economy collapses”. “You know that our economies are closed interlinked. The trade between Russia and Belarus will exceed $30 billion by the end of the year. That is three times more than the Russian-US trade is. Not to mention such issues as policy, social and military area where Belarus is extremely important for Russia. Of course Russia can raise gas prices by $50 or $100 dollars per one thousand cubic meters and lose much of that I have mentioned,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus performs important regional functions as centre of Europe

    As the centre of Europe Belarus performs most important functions for the benefit of the entire European region. “It was god’s will. Whether you in the UK, Germany or France wanted it or not, as the centre of Europe we have to work for you, too. At least we shouldn’t make problems for you,” remarked the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded, Belarus successfully fights against the flow of drugs, contraband and illegal migrants heading for Europe. “At present no man can infiltrate the European Union across our border. Several times we stopped nuclear components at the border and such cases were not unique last year,” noted the head of state.

    “Let’s take NATO. You need to transport cargoes to Afghanistan. Do we make problems for you in this regard? Has the Prime Minister or Chancellor of Germany ever had any problems flying over Belarus to Moscow?” wondered the President. He also reminded, one third of the natural gas and almost half of the oil supplied by the East to the West passes via Belarus.

    “Did we do something wrong in this regard for Europe? One must ask why you have to adjust Belarus after the likes of the United Kingdom or Germany or France,” said the President. “If assumingly the UK wants Belarus to look like the UK, while Germany wants us to look like Germany, I understand it. Moreover, I would embrace it. But the UK, Germany, France and others should bear in mind that you and us live in Europe. We have certain differences and we have certain difficulties and hardships at a specific period of historic development”. Alexander Lukashenko attributed it, primarily, to the fact that Belarus had been part of a huge empire, a huge country — the Soviet Union. “We didn’t have a division of the Soviet Union but a single-step breakdown. It happened while the economic state of the then Soviet Union was dire,” he reminded.

    The President said, during the years he rose to power saving the country and protecting the people from a catastrophe was the most important thing. “Certainly, in order to save the economy, people, the state, in order to create a state (an independent state it had to be), both will and strict authority were naturally required,” explained Alexander Lukashenko.

    “It has always happened like that in the UK, Germany, and France. Consider De Gaulle. In order to save France back then, very strict measures had to be taken, especially in economy. Why such a way could have been impossible in Belarus?” wondered Alexander Lukashenko. “We managed to secure the primary goal: create a free independent country and define its borders. It was complicated, too”. The President also remarked, Belarus has managed to preserve a high-tech economy, doubling the GDP in comparison with the USSR time, preventing various clashes and catastrophes on religious or racial grounds.

    The head of state remarked, “We may reach the state of things you have. In state structure, economy, social life. As far as social security is concerned, we borrow a lot from you, especially Germany. We learn these things from you. Especially now. Rebuilding healthcare, we will exceed Germany’s results in two years”. Alexander Lukashenko underscored, Belarus needs time to pass through certain phases and make sure whether these or those variants of state structure or social protection fit the country. “But you shouldn’t make us hurry or push,” he concluded.

    Belarus has one of best investment legislations in Europe, Alexander Lukashenko says

    Belarus has developed one of the best investment legislations in Europe, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview for the West-European mass media.

    “We have more effective legislation for investors than England, America and Germany have,” the Belarusian leader said.

    “We say: “We welcome investors from England, Germany, France, Russia, America. For the last five or seven years we have been improving and simplifying our legislation to make our country the best investment destination,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    At the same time the President briefed that in order to attract investors the Belarusian state is not going to hand out its economic objects for free.

    “No one can deny that English and German people live much better than Belarusians. Then why should we give you our companies for free? You are rich. Pay for it to allow our people live better. You will not have any problems with the Belarusian people in the future. Our people will respect you,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

  • The Elections...

    Lidia Yermoshina: calls to boycott elections are irresponsible and immoral

    From: BelTA
    Any calls designed to sabotage such an important event as the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly are irresponsible and immoral, BelTA learnt from Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Lidia Yermoshina during the presentation of the CEC information centre at the Palace of Republic on September 26.

    Such calls are immoral from a civil point of view and are aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country, Lidia Yermoshina added. “Nobody will gain from wrecking the elections. It is harmful for any society and any state,” the CEC Chief said.

    Lidia Yermoshina underlined that according to the electoral law of the Republic of Belarus, the calls to boycott elections are not forbidden. Only on the day of the elections, September 28, the campaigning will not be allowed. Before September 28, all these activities are legal.

    “The calls to boycott the elections are the personal matter of those who do it. But those politicians that pursue this policy are doomed for extinction,” the CEC Chairperson is convinced.

    Proportional representation voting illegal in Belarus

    Belarusian laws disallow proportional representation voting in parliamentary elections. Lidia Yermoshina said that in Belarus the authority of a parliament member, who fails in discharging his duties, can be revoked by collecting a certain number of voter signatures in the constituency the MP represents.

    “It disallows proportional representation elections when the entire country is one constituency,” said the CEC head. She remarked, Belarus is one of the few European countries where any elections use the majority voting system.

    She admitted party list elections may become possible in Belarus sometime in the future. “We may have to introduce the system one day,” she said.

    OSCE to present conclusions about parliamentary elections in Belarus on September 29

    The OSCE will present its opinion about the parliamentary elections in Belarus at 3 p.m. on September 29, Anne-Marie Lizin, OSCE PA Deputy President, head of the OSCE PA mission sent to monitor elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, told reporters on September 26 after she met with Belarus Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov.

    In her words, the meeting with the Interior Minister was most important because it outlined how the monitoring will be organised on the election day. “We’ve already been granted access to monitoring the vote count. It is very important as we will be able to track the entire election process so that no strange accidents would happen,” said the head of the OSCE PA monitoring mission.

    According to Anne-Marie Lizin, Vladimir Naumov assured that law enforcement bodies will do their best to prevent provocations and interference with the operation of the commissions.

    Additional authority for international observers during parliamentary elections in Belarus

    During the present parliamentary elections in Belarus international observers are granted large powers, including those unspecified by the legislation. In particular, foreign observers were present when candidates for deputies recorded their TV appearances. They were allowed getting familiar with the production of propaganda leaflets in printing houses, said Lidia Yermoshina.

    “The Central Election Committee shows openness and makes steps forward. We expect the international community to make steps forward as well. Election organisers are intent on making the elections democratic, open and transparent,” said the CEC head.

    So far certificates have been signed for 926 international observers, with 14,000 domestic observers accredited. Long-term missions are already monitoring the election campaign in Belarus. On the election day, September 28, observers will be able to see the vote counting. “I hope the parliamentary elections will live up to expectations and will be acknowledged both by voters and observers,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

    The CEC head also said, at present 263 candidates for deputies partake in the election campaign. There are many representatives of political parties among them. Members of political parties account for only 3% of the voters and 30% of the candidates. Most of these parties define themselves as opposition, stated Lidia Yermoshina. She also added, during the election campaign ten representatives of opposition parties have withdrawn their candidacies on their own initiative. Those striving for victory are very active. Yet the election campaign is rather calm and there is no black PR, malicious slander and insults, remarked the CEC head.

    The election campaign going on in Belarus has met major interest of the international community and mass media. The CEC Information Centre has already accredited 268 Belarusian reporters and over 320 foreign ones. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry continues the accreditation of representatives of foreign mass media.

    Sergei Martynov, OSCE/ODIHR Director discuss preparations for Belarus’ elections

    From: BelTA
    Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov and OSCE/ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic discussed the preparations for the parliamentary elections in Belarus on September 26. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA that the sides also touched upon the organization of the work of the OSCE observation mission in Belarus.

    The meeting was held at the Foreign Ministry of Belarus. The sides agreed to continue cooperation on a wide range of issues.

    Belarusians will be able to vote in 40 polling stations in 31 foreign states, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus. In particular, polling stations were opened in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Hungary, Venezuela, Germany, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Canada, China, Cuba, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Serbia, the USA, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, France, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden, Estonia, the UAE, Japan. Four polling stations were opened in Russia, four – in Poland, two – in Germany, two – in Latvia and two – in the USA.

    The Central Election Commission made Kupala election district No95 of Minsk in charge of the polling stations outside the Republic of Belarus. The district election commissions consist of the heads of the foreign diplomatic missions of the total amount of 215 people.

    Belarus creates conditions for transparent, democratic parliamentary elections

    Belarus has created all necessary conditions for holding transparent and democratic parliamentary elections, stated Yuri Yeremin, head of the Moldavian delegation observing the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, chairman of a group of friendship between the Moldavian parliament and the Belarusian House of Representatives.

    Today, chairman of the permanent commission on the international affairs with the CIS of the House of Representatives Valentin Simirsky is meeting with a mission of observers of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly – deputies of the Moldavian parliament.

    Within the next few days the Moldavian mission will be observing the voting and fulfillment of all requirements envisaged in the Election Code of Belarus. “We think there will be no violations. The previous parliamentary elections in Belarus showed their transparency and a high degree of organisation,” Yuri Yeremin said.

    In his words, the Election Code of Belarus is one of the most democratic. “We are confident that the voting in Belarus will be fair,” added the Moldavian deputy.

    Valentin Simirsky said that Belarus and Moldova developed warm and friendly relations during the times of the Soviet Union. So far diplomatic links of the two sides have been experiencing a sustainable development and strengthening, the trade has been showing a considerable growth. “Over the eight months of 2008, the bilateral trade greatly exceeded the 2007 figure. I hope our trade and economic relations will be strengthening for the benefit of the two countries,” underscored Valentin Simirsky.

    Head of OSCE PA mission pleased with election monitoring conditions in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has all the necessary conditions for monitoring the parliamentary elections, Anne-Marie Lizin, head of the monitoring mission sent by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said as she met with Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vadim Popov on September 26.

    Anne-Marie Lizin remarked she has good impressions of Belarus. In her words, the European Union is closely monitoring the present election campaign.

    The head of the OSCE PA monitoring mission also underscored the European community puts high hopes on the elections and expects positive results.

    “The OSCE mission includes people largely experienced in election monitoring. We adhere to rules of non-interference with the election process and the work of chairmen of election commissions. Observers are supposed to watch only and report monitoring results. Making objective conclusions is our goal,” said Anne-Marie Lizin.

    Vadim Popov told Anne-Marie Lizin out of the 110 effective deputies 34 ones are partaking in the elections. Two principles are observed: renewal of the parliament and continuity, transfer of the accumulated experience.

    Vadim Popov remarked, Belarus uses a majoritarian electoral system, without party lists used to elect MPs. Yet representatives of the entire spectrum of political parties of the country take part in elections. They have to prove their competence to their party and electors.

    “We openly provide opportunities to work in all regions of our country to all international observers. We ask one thing of them: the election process should be evaluated objectively,” said the speaker.

    CIS observers praise parliamentary elections in Belarus

    The CIS observers praise the elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, head of the CIS observing mission Nauryz Aidarov noted during his meeting with Head of the Belarus Central Election Commission Lydia Yermoshina on September 26.

    “We praise the steps made by the Belarusian leadership and the Central Election Commission to hold free and fair elections,” Nauryz Aidarov said. He also noted that Belarus invited a lot of foreign observers.

    According to him, 410 observers will represent the CIS member states including 46 long-term observers. They will observe all the 110 electoral districts.

    The head of the CIS observing mission noted that CIS observers have already prepared two interim statements which say that the election campaign has no serious violations, it being held in line with the Belarusian national legislation.

    In turn, Lydia Yermoshina noted that she signed 926 certificates of international observers. The OSCE and the CIS have the biggest missions. According to the Head of the Belarus Central Election Commission, around 14 thousand domestic observers have been accredited for the elections as well. “I think that their number will increase on Sunday,” she said.

    Lydia Yermoshina also noted that participation of Belarus’ political parties in the election campaign is not active. “Eight parties from fifteen set up their candidates. As it turned out, seven parties are marginal ones and they do not participate in the elections,” she noted.

    Answering the question regarding the transparency of ballot boxes, Lydia Yermoshina expressed a doubt that the material from which the ballot boxes are produced may have an influence on the elections transparency.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Alexander Lukashenko: conscientious selfless work is country’s major resource

    From: BelTA
    Conscientious selfless work of the people is the major resource of the state, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at a ceremony of conferring state awards.

    Addressing the awardees the Head of State said: “High state awards are a public recognition of your services to the country. You redound to the country’s strength, welfare and fame, and the country appreciates your achievements in return”.

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that deep optimism and hope for a promising future of Belarus inspired by the working people who demonstrate a creative spark and persistence in the work. “I am especially glad today to meet with a large group of our wonderful scientists, pedagogues, other educational professionals. We highly appreciate your contribution to the intellectual development of the society. Thank you for everything great and valuable you create in the area of fundamental and applied research, for training highly-qualified specialists,” said the President of Belarus. In particular, an Order of Frantsysk Skorina was awarded to Deputy Director of the Grodno State Arts College Vladimir Sergeichik, the title “Honorary Educator of the Republic of Belarus” was bestowed upon Rector of Belarusian State University Vasily Strazhev.

    Alexander Lukashenko praised great achievements of the medical workers and thanked them for conscientious work, development of a scientific school, high professionalism and considerable contribution to the development of priority areas of the medical science. The President of Belarus decorated with the Order of Honour Professor of Surgeon Department No 1 of Belarusian State Medical University Sergei Leonovich.

    According to the Head of State, one of the most efficient ways to improve the health of the nation is to widely expand the healthy way of life, develop sports and physical culture movement. Alexander Lukashenko congratulated outstanding athletes and coaches on their great results at the international competitions and strengthening the prestige of Belarus. “Health, physical and spiritual perfection are those notions that are mutually complementary. It is not by chance that even in the most difficult times the issues of supporting culture and art were of top-priority for our country. They guarantee healthy and full-fledged development of the society and serve as a basis for the civil unity,” remarked the President of Belarus. The titles “Honorary Masters of Sports of the Republic of Belarus” were given to athletes – instructors of the national gymnastics team Kseniya Sankovich and Alina Tumilovich.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed gratitude to cultural and art figures who helped preserve national traditions and developed a rich spiritual world of the Belarusian nation. The President of the Republic of Belarus officially thanked Anatoly Yarmolenko, Art Director of the Syabry Ensemble, in recognition of a considerable contribution to the national culture and popularization of the best national traditions.

    The Head of State underscored that everything created by the people should be protected. “It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the diligent and sometimes unnoticeable activity of the State Control Committee, lawyers and economists. The fight against law breakers, corruption, curbing the economic and criminal crime is the most important area in the policy of our country. We support and appreciate those who skillfully and competently protect the interests and rights of the citizens and the state,” the Head of State said.

    Sergei Sidorsky: Belarus’ financial system is least influenced by global problem tendencies

    From: BelTA
    The financial system of Belarus operates steadily and problem tendencies on international financial markets have little effect on it, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on September 25.

    The press service of the President quoted Sergei Sidorsky as saying, at present Belarusian money is not placed on stock markets, this is why it is important that banks with loans should perform their credit import transactions both home and abroad.

    The President was told that the government and the National Bank are fully in control of the situation and are doing their best to safeguard the domestic market from foreign influence. “We are managing so far. We haven’t taken any additional measures and are using regular procedures,” noted the head of government.

    Sergei Sidorsky also informed the President about the completion of autumn agricultural operations. At present virtually all oblasts are lagging behind in autumn ploughing and sowing. Orders issued by the government lack a proper response so far, said the Prime Minister. Only the Minsk oblast has presented a precise schedule outlining the completion of the autumn work.

    The head of state gave an instruction to prepare a summarising report for all the oblasts on September 29 regarding the completion of the autumn agricultural operations. This is why instructions will be sent to oblast and region authorities without delay with a view to expediting autumn sowing and the harvesting of flax and vegetables.

    Apart from that, the President was informed about the social and economic development of the country as a whole. The Belarusian industry is developing fast. In January-August 2008 the industrial output swelled by 13.1%, which is higher than the forecast (8-9%) and goals set by the government (11%).

    The agricultural output increased by 7.4% over the eight months of the year.

    In January-August fixed-capital investments increased by 21.8%, which is higher than the approved target (15-17%).

    In January-July the profitably of sold goods and services in the Belarusian industry amounted to 18.6% while the forecast was set at 12-13%. It is attributed to vigorous modernisation of Belarusian companies and results achieved by innovation programmes.

    All the factors contributed to a 10.6% increase in the GDP over the first eight months of the year while the forecast for 2008 stands at 8-9%.

    In January-July Belarusian salaries averaged Br832,800 and Br923,300 in July alone. Real salaries increased by 8.4% in January-July.

    Labour productivity is increasing fast: 10.1% up in the first seven months of the year, with the forecast set at 6.9-7.7%.

    The accomplishment of 17 out of 19 most important goals of the 2008 social and economic development forecast has been secured. Only two goals have not been reached — export and import operations.

    The Prime Minister also informed the President about the agenda of the forthcoming session of the Union government. The session is scheduled for October 6. Alexander Lukashenko has agreed to meet with Vladimir Putin as requested by the Russian Prime Minister.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus votes as opposition cries foul

    From: AFP
    Belarussians vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election that could determine whether the authoritarian former Soviet republic and longtime ally of Russia warms to the West.

    But the opposition has already slammed the poll as undemocratic and plans a rally to protest what it fears will be widespread voting fraud by allies of autocratic Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko.

    Voters, who will have 12 hours to cast ballots from 8:00 am (0500 GMT), are being asked to choose 110 deputies for the lower house of parliament, which currently has no members from the opposition.

    Belarus, a landlocked nation of around 10 million people, lies between Russia and the European Union and is an important transit country for Russian gas exports.

    Its all-powerful leader, Lukashenko, was once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, but has been courting the West in the past few months amid wavering of loyalty to Russia.

    The wily 54-year-old has voiced hopes the vote will be recognised by the United States and European Union, which are closely monitoring Belarus' democratic credentials.

    In return for progress, the United States has suggested it could ease sanctions along with the 27-nation European bloc, which also flagged lifting travel bans for Belarussian leaders and offering Minsk economic aid.

    The top Western election observer in Belarus said Friday that authorities had made "real efforts" to increase fairness, citing the increased number of opposition candidates and the greater time allotted them on television.

    "The biggest change is that we are actually allowed to participate in the vote count," Anne-Marie Lizin, the international community's special coordinator in Belarus, told AFP.

    But on the same day, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Luksahenko's critics were being ignored in state-controlled media, adding there had been "no improvement" from previous elections.

    That is one of the complaints of the anti-Lukashenko groups which plan to stage the post-poll rally in Minsk's October Square, where thousands protested the results of a March 2006 presidential vote, setting up a tent town.

    Of the 263 candidates running for office, 70 are from the United Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties, while the rest are Lukashenko loyalists.

    In 15 of the 110 districts, the president's allies are running unopposed.

    The vote is to be monitored by almost 400 observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the continent's elections watchdog. The first results are expected on Monday.

    Belarus goes to polls hoping for better ties with West

    From: Globe and Mail
    Belarus holds a parliamentary election on Sunday which President Alexander Lukashenko believes could improve relations between his ex-Soviet republic and the West.

    Mr. Lukashenko, accused by the West of human rights abuses during 14 years in power, is confident European monitors will endorse the polls as free and fair. No election in Belarus has been given such an assessment since the mid-1990s.

    Candidates from 70 opposition parties will fight for seats in the 110-member parliament. But although analysts predict they could win several seats, opposition leaders have already denounced the vote as fraudulent.

    The verdict of European monitors, hundreds of which have arrived in Belarus, is likely to matter more than the actual outcome of the 12-hour voting which starts at 8 a.m.

    "The monitors face a political and ethical dilemma," said Vinchuk Vechorko, deputy head of the opposition Belarus National Front.

    "They can carry out a political project of remaking Lukashenko into a European, nationally minded politician … or remain committed to their principles of calling a fraudulent election a fraudulent election," he told a news conference.

    The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said last week the election was freer than previous races, but complained it had received no assurances it could see the count.

    The OSCE has dispatched 477 observers for the poll, more than in previous votes.

    Lavish subsidies and benefits have made Mr. Lukashenko broadly popular in the country of 10 million. He has sought better ties with the West, especially the EU, since rowing with Moscow over energy prices.

    But Mr. Lukashenko and 40 officials remain barred from the United States and EU on charges of rigging his 2006 re-election.

    As part of his new policy course Mr. Lukashenko has authorized the release of political prisoners ahead of the election.

    The liberal and nationalist opposition, shut out of parliament in 2004, rejected calls by some activists for a boycott. Its leaders say they could win as many as 30 seats.

    The EU has said it could consider easing or lifting the sanctions if the election goes well.

    The West is showing increasing interest in Belarus amid rapidly worsening ties with its ally Russia over Moscow's invasion in Georgia last month.

    The opposition says Mr. Lukashenko's overtures did not change the nature of his rule.

    "I have no doubts the polls will be falsified," Communist leader Sergei Kalyakin said on Saturday.

    Opposition leaders want the West to keep pressurizing Minsk until democracy is restored in full.

    Belarus election tests commitment to reform

    From: AP
    In parliamentary elections being held here this weekend, Belarus' charismatic and authoritarian leader can count on his people's support. But what President Alexander Lukashenko really yearns for these days is the approval of the West.

    In the past year, the former Soviet republic has been reaching out to the United States and Europe as it fends off growing pressure from Russia. And after Russia's invasion of Georgia last month, Lukashenko believes he has new cause to be wary of the Kremlin's intentions.

    The West has called Lukashenko the "last dictator in Europe" and imposed sanctions on his government. But alarmed at the vengeance with which Russia punished Georgia, the United States and the European Union are now more receptive to Lukashenko's overtures and have offered to repair ties if he eases his political repressions.

    Sunday's ballot will be a major test of his commitment to democratic reform.

    Every election Lukashenko has held since becoming president in 1994 has been condemned by the West as undemocratic, but he has vowed that this one will be different.

    In a turnaround from elections four years ago, he has allowed the opposition to take part. A total of 263 candidates are competing for 110 seats, and about 70 are from the opposition.

    Opposition leaders, however, say the contest is far less competitive than it sounds. They have not been allowed to campaign and have been blocked from monitoring the vote count. There have been no posters on the streets, political rallies or television debates.

    "On all the television channels they say that opposition members are all enemies of Belarus, but I haven't been able to learn anything about any of them," said Anton Gulyakevich, 18, a student who was taking part in early voting Wednesday in the capital, Minsk.

    Lukashenko was clearly shaken by the war in Georgia, which has left Russia in control of the two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where it intervened on the side of separatists.

    Moscow has recognized the regions' independence and insisted they will not become part of Russia. But many in Belarus, and some experts in Russia, believe the Kremlin intends to combine the two Georgian separatist territories in a future union between Russia and Belarus. The leader of Abkhazia has suggested as much.

    If that is Moscow's plan, Lukashenko is showing no inclination to endorse it.

    "Lukashenko understands that the Kremlin's plan will bury Belarus' independence and his status will drop to the level of the leaders of the unrecognized states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," said Yaroslav Romanchuk, an independent political analyst.

    Negotiations over a full merger between Russia and Belarus, which have been under way since the 1990s, have long been deadlocked. But some analysts say Moscow has sought to revive those efforts in recent years, with the aim of making Vladimir Putin, Russia's current prime minister, the head of the unified state.

    Alexander Rahr, a German scholar who met with Putin this month, called a Russian-led union a strong possibility.

    "The charismatic Putin will create for himself a new state entity, which he will head," he said.

    This is not the first split between Minsk and Moscow. Belarus is dependent on Russia for oil and gas, and the Kremlin has used the prices it charges as a political tool to reward or punish the Belarusian president.

    Lukashenko, however, has learned to maneuver. Every time the Kremlin threatens to raise energy prices, he edges toward the West.

    U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said the U.S. will be watching the elections closely.

    "I think the upcoming elections are an important test," he said Thursday in Washington. "And how those elections turn out will depend on how we go forward" in relations with Belarus.

    Opposition leaders hold out little hope for democratic advances. They point to heavy early voting, where groups of students, soldiers and government workers are being marched to the polls ahead of election day. This was one of the methods international observers said was used to rig past elections.

    Not only can voters be intimidated under these circumstances, early voting makes it harder to match the number of votes cast with the number of voters who show up at a given polling station, making ballot stuffing easier.

    "It's already clear that the votes will not be counted fairly," said Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the opposition United Civil Party. "Lukashenko will simply name his list of deputies and in the best case scenario add a few uninfluential opposition member in order to shut up the EU and U.S."

    The opposition has called on its supporters to rally in Minsk's central square after polls close Sunday. Only five to 10 opposition candidates are expected to win seats.

    More than 400 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be monitoring the vote.

    Minsk city chief urges voters to support Belarus' "current course"

    From: Naveny
    Mikhail Pawlaw, chief of the Minsk City Executive Committee, addressed voters on September 26, urging them to cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections and support the country's "current course."

    "Everyone has the right to choose. But it is important to preserve the current course of Belarus," Mr. Pawlaw said in the televised address.

    "There are those who wish to rock the boat and create tensions. Fortunately, Minsk residents do not need to defend their rights in street disputes," he said. "Such times are over. Our children know nothing about idle factories, empty store shelves or coupons for flour, sugar and other basic products. Minsk has lately changed beyond recognition… The capital city has the highest pay, there is almost no unemployment there and cleanness and peace is maintained in the street."

    "I am sure that you will make the right choice, and active, smart and responsible people capable of thinking as statesmen and taking well-considered decisions will get the deputy's mandate," Mr. Pawlaw said. "I am talking about those who sincerely wish people good, who really want to give their experience and knowledge to the country, who realize that the deputy's seat is not a means of earning political points but tense and responsible work upon which the well-being and stability of society depend."

    Mr. Pawlaw lauded the campaign as open, organized and democratic, saying that election commissions should above all be given credit for this. "We are doing everything what depends on us to ensure that Minsk residents have every condition for the free expression of their will," he said.

  • From the Opposition...

    No democrats in half of constituencies. Opposition calls to protest actions

    From: Charter '97
    Democratic candidates are not presented in 9 out of 20 constituencies of Minsk. The opposition calls on the international community not to recognise the “parliamentary election” legitimate and is ready to go to October Square of Minsk at 8.00 September 28 to demand new really free election.

    The number of non-alternative constituencies, where one pro-governmental candidate runs, is growing in the country. There are 16 such constituencies now. The number of constituencies, where no democratic candidates run, is 35. Taking into account withdrawal of candidates of the European List from the “election”, which was announced on September 26, this figure may grow.

    Scanty rate of representatives of the opposition political parties in polling station election commissions – only 47 people out of 70.000 (0.07 per cent) demonstrates that there will be no honest votes counting at this “election”, the opposition thinks.

    Besides, the rate of non-registered democratic candidates is very high. 263 candidates run in the “election” today. It should be reminded that 365 people applied for registration. About 80 applicants weren’t registered, more than 20 withdrew from the “election” voluntary. The average rate of candidates per seat is 2.4 people. In 2000, when most of opposition institutions carried on active boycott of the “election”, this rate was 5.5 people. Observers note low interest of the Belarusians in the so called “election”.

    Moreover, human rights activists have recorded a great number of violations during the early voting. Administrative leverage was used to make people vote early. It is remarkable that about t80 per cent of students, the least active part of electorate according to the world statistics, have votes early at many polling stations. Students were forced to vote early, threatened with expelling and depriving of place in a hostel. The opposition political parties noted in their special message the early voting was used by the Belarusian authorities only for rigging the voting results.

    The opposition have used two kinds of tactics in the election campaign. Representatives of the civil initiative “European Belarus” and the Young Front stood for the boycott of the “election” from the very beginning. Later a number of candidates from democratic lists joined them and withdrew their candidatures. Many democratic candidates of the European List, who weren’t registered in the Central Election Commission, said they would withdraw protesting against numerous violation during the “election”. Opposition parties left a question on running or non-running in the “election” at the discretion of the candidates and recommend them to focus on revealing facts of falsification of the “election”. However, most of the democrats wrote a statement they consider this election as unfair and unfree and won’t recognise this “house of representatives”. The opposition has the only shared view: the “parliamentary election” can’t be recognised legitimate, and people should go to the Square on September 28.

    Baranavichy: Report once you've voted

    From: Viasna
    Belarussian opposition leader Andrei Kim
    We have received another documented evidence of the fact that school teachers and staff are “insistently asked” to vote early from Baranavichy. Moreover, those who have cast votes have to sign the special lists which are kept in the teachers’ room.

    As it could be seen from the lists, quite many teachers “yielded to persuasion” by the third day of early voting.

    Similar scenarios are likely to be played in other educational establishments. At the same time the picture of how Baranavichy students vote can demonstrate a lot. During three days 80% of voters voted at polling station # 16 (distance studies department of Baranavichy State University, Mayakouskaha 11).

    Mahiliou: Information about candidate not posted because… he has no higher education

    At polling station # 40 of district # 85 campaign materials of Aliaksei Paulouski are not posted.

    Aliaksei Paulouski points out, he visited polling stations many times and noticed that some of them failed to place his campaign materials on the board.

    “I addressed precinct commission # 40 (gymnasia # 3) many times, with the request to post my flyers. The precinct commission replied that I had no higher education and should not start a scandal. They even promised they would draw up a report that I started a row.”, -- Aliaksei Paulouski says.

    Paulouski states he provided the precinct election commission with his posters a week before the incident. Members of the commission promised to place it on the billboard. However, they did not keep their promise. Aliaksei Paulouski filed a complaint to the district commission, asking to influence their subordinate commission and post his campaign material at the polling station.

    Scandal: Ballot-stuffing recorded at a Minsk polling station

    A ballot box was opened during the lunch break from 2.00 to 4.00 pm at polling station #456 in Minsk.

    Observer Vital Stazharou told it to

    He came to the polling station after lunch and found out that seal on the ballot box didn’t look like at a photo, he made at 2.00 pm. At 4.00, leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka, who runs in this constituency (Staravilenski #5), and OSCE PA international observer from Estonia came to the station.

    Head of the commission Mikalai Lahunovich denies the fact of opening the box. He even said Vital Stozharau might stay for a night at the polling station.

    “It is clear that ballots were replaced in the box,” Anatol Lyabedzka thinks. “And unprecedented fact – offer to stay for a night at the station to our observer – confirms it.”

    The ballot box was guarded by militia officer Syarhei Mikhailovich (official number A-11437).

  • Around the region...

    Russia warship heads to Africa after pirate attack

    From: AP
    A Russian warship on Friday rushed to intercept a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 battle tanks and a hoard of ammunition that was seized by pirates off the Horn of Africa — a bold hijacking that again heightened fears about surging piracy and high-seas terrorism.

    A U.S. warship is tracking the vessel but there has been no decision about intercepting it, U.S. Defense Department officials said.

    "I think we're looking at the full range of options here," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

    It was unclear whether the pirates who seized the 530-foot-long cargo ship Faina on Thursday knew what it carried. Still, analysts said it would be extremely difficult to sell such high-profile weaponry like Russian tanks.

    The hijacking, with worldwide pirate attacks surging this year, could help rally stronger international support behind France, which has pushed aggressively for decisive action against Somali pirates.

    Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo told The Associated Press that the missile frigate Neustrashimy left the Baltic Sea port of Baltiisk a day before the hijacking to cooperate with other unspecified countries in anti-piracy efforts.

    But he said the ship was then ordered directly to the Somalia coast after Thursday's attack.

    According to the British-based Jane's Information Group, the Neustrashimy is armed with surface-to-air missiles, 100 mm guns and anti-submarine torpedoes.

    Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov, meanwhile, said the hijacked vessel Faina was carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. He said the tanks were sold to Kenya in accordance with international law.

    Ukrainian officials and an anti-piracy watchdog said 21 crew members were aboard the seized ship, including three Russians. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko ordered unspecified measures to free the crew, but it was unclear whether any of the former Soviet republic's naval vessels had been dispatched.

    A Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, confirmed the East African nation's military had ordered the tanks and spare parts. The tanks are part of a two-year rearmament program.

    "The government is in contact with international maritime agencies and other security partners in an endeavor to secure the ship and cargo," Mutua said in a statement. "The government is actively monitoring the situation."

    A person who answered the telephone at Ukrainian state-controlled arms dealer Ukrspetsexport, which brokered the sale, refused to comment, and said all requests for information must be submitted in writing.

    It was unclear where the shipment originated, though Ukrainian news agencies identified the ship operator as a company called Tomex Team based in the Black Sea port of Odessa. Calls to Tomex offices went unanswered Friday.

    At the Pentagon, two defense officials said the warship was tracking the Ukrainian ship but there has been no decision about taking any other action such as intercepting it. The officials said that besides the T-72 tanks, it was carrying guns and rocket launchers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

    "Obviously, we are deeply concerned," said Lt. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet, declining to provide details.

    Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, said the United States was worried about the cargo.

    "A ship carrying cargo of that nature being hijacked off the coast of Somalia is something that should concern us, and it does concern us," he said.

    The Navy says the 5th Fleet includes the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and several support ships, which "deter destabilizing activities and ensure a lawful maritime order in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Gulf of Aden."

    Paul Cornish, head of the international security program at the London-based think-tank Chatham House said the tanks would be difficult to sell on to a third party — private buyers or warlords, for example — because of the logistics involved with keeping them operational.

    "It's not like (stealing) a container full of machine guns, where all you need is a tin of bicycle oil," he said.

    Roger Middleton, another Chatham House researcher, said it was unlikely the pirates knew there were tanks aboard the Faina, and also said unloading the cargo would be difficult.

    "Most of their attacks are based on opportunity. So if they see something that looks attackable and looks captureable, they'll attack it," he said.

    Middleton said it was unclear how the pirates might react if confronted by military action, noting that they have fled from authorities in the past. On the other hand, he said, they are usually well-armed and organized and are based in an unstable country — Somalia.

    "It could potentially get pretty messy," he said.

    Long a hazard for maritime shippers — particularly in the Indian Ocean and its peripheries — high-seas piracy has triggered greater alarm since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States because of its potential as a funding and supply source for global terrorism.

    Pirate attacks worldwide have surged this year and Africa remains the world's top piracy hotspot, with 24 reported attacks in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.

    The issue burst into international view Sept. 15 when Somali pirates took two French citizens captive aboard a luxury yacht and helicopter-borne French commandos then swooped in to rescue them.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy this month called on other nations to move boldly against pirates, calling the phenomenon "a genuine industry of crime."

    In June, the U.N. Security Council — pushed by France and the United States — unanimously adopted a resolution allowing ships of foreign nations that cooperate with the Somali government to enter their territorial waters "for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

    Chavez defies US by cozying up to Russia and China

    From: Daily Times
    Hugo Chavez’s visit to Russia shows he intends not only to break free of the US sphere of influence in matters of defence, but also to strike significant political links with the very powers that challenge US supremacy

    VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez’s visit to China and Russia this week and the military and energy cooperation agreements he signed put him on dangerous ground in his relations with the United States, political analysts said.

    “This trip shows he intends not only to break free of the US sphere of influence in matters of defence, but also to strike significant political links with the very powers that challenge US supremacy,” international studies professor Elsa Cardozo told AFP. Since Chavez came to power in 1999, Venezuela has become a major buyer of Russian weaponry on the premise it needs stronger defences in case it comes under foreign attack. Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting his overthrow. During Chavez’s visit, Moscow on Thursday announced a one-billion-dollar loan to Venezuela to buy Russian arms. Both countries in 2005 and 2007 signed deals for 4.4 billion dollars of Russian weapons, including fighter jets, tanks and assault rifles.

    “The United States has tried to disarm us, to boycott us, and we’ve got some old, US-made planes that can’t fly because the United States won’t sell us spare parts,” said Chavez. “I went to Beijing, I went to Moscow and now we’ve got a fighter squadron better than the F-16s,” he added. Chavez’ trip to Russia came only days after Moscow sent a pair of Tu-160 strategic bombers on a training mission to Venezuela, followed by a naval flotilla led by the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great.

    The Russian warships were to take part in unprecedented joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean Sea, in a part of the world the United States has traditionally regarded as its backyard. “Russia has new intentions, as it has shown in the Caucasus, and Chavez has absolutely irresponsibly opened the doors of the Caribbean and the Venezuela territory to them,” said world politics analyst Maruja Tarre.

    “We don’t know why he’s done this. We don’t know how many Russians will come over. It’s something that should be discussed openly, publicly, but that’s not the case,” she added. “Russia’s game is not Venezuela’s, and our country is facing unnecessary risks by taking on an agenda it doesn’t control,” said Cardozo. “In its bid to regain its superpower footing, Russia is sending the US a message: ‘We’ve got a welcome mat in South America,’” added the university professor. So far, Washington has downplayed the Venezuela-Russia overtures.

    “Clearly, those two countries ... can work together as they see fit. I just don’t consider that a really significant threat at this particular point in time,” Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told reporters Friday. In another disconcerting move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s predecessor and now Prime Minister Valdimir Putin on Thursday offered Russia’s cooperation in developing nuclear power in Venezuela. And also of international concern are Venezuela’s growing relations with Iran, a country on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism that could be dabbling with nuclear weapons.

    “What threat can Venezuela’s relations with Iran and Russia pose, when the biggest threat to the world is the US empire’s very existence,” said Chavez recently. But Tarre said “Latin America has vowed to stay a nuclear-free. And Venezuela, apart from not needing nuclear power plants, would be violating (nuclear-free) treaties it signed with other neighboring countries.”

    During his three-day visit to China earlier this week, Chavez also announced he was buying 24, K-8 reconnaissance and training aircraft from China, which he said “Venezuela needs very much.” Venezuela has also purchased Chinese radar stations in the past.The K-8 sale went unconfirmed by Chinese authorities, who were very reticent about their relations with Venezuela. Chinese officials denied that any military cooperation agreements were signed during Chavez’ visit. “Even the Chinese said they kept only trade relations with Venezuela, but the Russians have other goals. On their big chessboard, Venezuela is just a pawn to be cast aside when they choose, and that’s the end of it,” said Tarre.

    West looks to future with Russia relations

    From: BBC
    Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has said that he does not want his country to drive a wedge between Russia and the rest of the world.

    Speaking to the BBC in New York, he said the consequences of the conflict with Russia this summer which led to Georgia's loss of control over the enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia had been "dire", but that Georgia's focus now was to rebuild its economy and strengthen its democracy, rather than seek further confrontation.

    This is an interesting change of tone by the Georgian leader - a tacit admission that Georgia has been the short-term military loser in this conflict, but that it hopes to turn the situation into a long-term gain, by seeking to enhance its international reputation compared to Russia.

    President Saakashvili admitted that, in the short term, Russia had made territorial gains and the cost to Georgia of this summer's conflict had been dire.

    But the consequences he said had not been deadly and Georgia would recover.

    "Remember Russia did not get two of its goals," he said, "to destroy our government or to shut off the pipeline which is the main energy bloodline for Europe."

    In a markedly more conciliatory tone than previously, he said Georgia's priority now was to rebuild its economy and strengthen its democracy.

    He put the emphasis on improving integration with the EU, rather than pushing for the Nato membership which Russia has objected to so strongly.

    He said this remained a long-term goal.

    Competition of principles

    But he added that the last thing Georgia wanted was to drive a wedge between Russia and the rest of the world.

    "We can never outwit Russia with tanks," he observed, "but we can compete on principles."

    Mr Saakashvili has not shifted in his insistence that it was a Russian invasion which had started the conflict over South Ossetia, and Georgia had only acted in response - a view diametrically opposed to Russia's reading.

    But the angry rhetoric has given way to a more seasoned assessment of what happened.

    He refused to be riled by the Russian president's description of him as "unhinged".

    "President [Dmitry] Medvedev has called me a 'political corpse'," he noted wryly, "but this corpse is here at the United Nations, holding talks and having meetings. I think some of these overstatements are counter-productive. There is no alternative to dialogue, but this will take time and a change of mentality in the Kremlin."

    The Georgian president is not the only one at the gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly this past week who has been taking stock of where this summer's conflict in the Caucasus has left international relations.

    Among foreign ministers from Europe, suspicions of Russia's motive and concern at what it might do next remain high.

    Even Bernard Kouchner - the French foreign minister who helped to broker the original ceasefire document which the French president signed with President Medvedev - is not sure where the crisis is heading.

    "As we did not want to go to war, we had to accept a compromise... Do not think I am proud of getting that document," he told a group of reporters.

    "They, the Russians, resisted us. It would have been easy for them to go for the Georgian capital and take it. They were strongly prepared... It was not perfect."

    And he added: "We'll see if it is a trap - if they do not implement the agreements they signed."

    The big test that Western nations are looking at now is the step-by-step implementation of the plan to put in EU police monitors in the buffer zone in Georgia on the border with South Ossetia.

    Moscow has agreed to pull its troops back from this part of Georgia to inside the disputed enclaves.

    "They have dug in a lot of bunkers. Let's see by the end of October if they really do dismantle checkpoints," said Mr Kouchner.

    Though he added this would not be enough, as Russia is still resisting the original ceasefire deal that it should withdraw its forces all the way back across the mountains into their pre-conflict positions in southern Russia.

    Russian compliance

    Moscow argues that now it has recognised the two enclaves as independent, Russian forces can stay there without anyone else's permission as they are guests of the local governments.

    So is there any way Western pressure can change this?

    The current head of the OSCE, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb who also helped negotiate an end to the conflict, has not given up hope.

    "We are in this for the long haul," he told the BBC.

    "Certainly Russia is in the driving seat... We need to keep expectations low. Once we have got international presence in place, we can talk about the future of the regions."

    An optimistic gloss, but the OSCE's own talks with Moscow are not going well.

    So far Russia has refused to countenance the idea of a sizeable international OSCE presence inside the disputed area.

    But Bernard Kouchner is pragmatic.

    "In the EU we want to maintain a dialogue with Russia. It is a big country and it is our neighbour. We don't want to go back to the Cold War. And we are consumers of their energy," he added.

    Need for Russians

    So what is the leverage that could change Russia's position?

    "I think there is leverage on Russia, in the form of international markets," noted Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, referring to the steep falls in the value of Russian stocks from May this year and particularly in the last few weeks.

    He added that Russia's diplomatic isolation was also a factor.

    "Only two countries have recognised South Ossetia's independence - Russia and Nicaragua - which is very significant. When it comes to territorial integrity the world is united."

    And yet, David Miliband was one of the tougher critics of Russia's action in the Caucasus back in August.

    So much so, that when he spoke on the phone to his Russian counterpart in August, frayed tempers apparently exploded into expletives.

    "It's not true he used a four letter word about me," claimed Mr Miliband, smiling slightly. "He repeated what someone else had said."

    But this week's meeting in New York with Mr Lavrov was, it seems, altogether calmer.

    "Strong views, but not necessarily strong language," said David Miliband, who then went out of his way to underscore the general anxiety there has been here this week in New York not to lose Russia as a sometimes valuable partner on other issues.

    "We have a very strong interest in Russia being engaged - especially on Iran," he said, adding: "We don't want a weak and humiliated Russia. We've always tried to reach out to Russia."

    That concern was made clear to all when Russia threatened to back out of a meeting on a new UN Security Council resolution to step up sanctions on Iran. The Kremlin now generally takes the view that sanctions are counter-productive.

    Faced with the prospect of the collapse of international pressure on Iran, the US and European partners acted quickly to bring Russia back on board with a much weaker statement - to preserve the appearance of unity.

    "We are not isolated," declared the Russian ambassador to the UN, with some justification.

    And the incident leaves that question hanging: if the Western powers need Russia so urgently to keep up pressure on Iran, how then can diplomatic isolation work as a means to influence Russia to shift its position on South Ossetia?

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Pilot awarded Silver Cross for saying “no” to President

    From: The News
    Lech Kaczynski; The idiot in first class
    Poland’s Defence Minister has awarded the captain of the “Polish Air Force 1” Tu-154, carrying President Lech Kaczynski and the Baltic States leaders to the anti-Russian rally in Georgian capital in August, with the Silver Cross of Merit for refusing to change the flight schedule.

    The captain of the Polish aircraft, with the presidents of Poland, Lithuania and Estonia and the Latvian PM on board, said “no” to President Lech Kaczynski when requested that he fly direct to Tbilisi instead of the originally planned destination of an airfield in Azerbaijan. The pilot decided that for safety reasons – Georgian airspace was in control of the Russians at the time - his aircraft should stick to the original schedule and, against Kaczynski’s wish, flew the top politicians to Azerbaijan.

    To President Kaczynski’s distaste, the statesmen then had to travel from Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in a four hour car convoy.

    Shortly after touchdown in Azerbaijan, the Polish President expressed his annoyance at the pilot’s “cowardice” and said he would hold him “responsible for his disobedience”.

    "The pilot, who has been suffering from depression since the incident, is again on duty and has been awarded for his brave decision,” said Minister Klich.

    Ministry of Labour seeks to legally ban child abuse

    From: The News
    The Polish Ministry of Labour wants to introduce a statutory ban on child abuse.

    The Government Spokesperson for Disabled People, Jaroslaw Duda, said that changes in the law are needed in order to more effectively fight the abuse children.

    According to the TNS OBOP research centre, 15 percent of Poles admit to using violence against children under age 18. The data shows that almost one-third of respondents know someone who uses violence against children. The data is similar regarding psychological violence.

    Less than one percent of respondents admitted to using sexual violence against their child.

    Poland has been shocked by a number of horrifying cases of incest and child molestation in recent days.
    Note: You mean it has been legal up to now?

    Man steals dogs, makes lard, sells to neighbors

    From: Polskie Radio
    A 70-year-old man from Wieliczka, in the south of Poland, was arrested today for stealing dogs. He admitted to having stolen dogs for the past fifty years, making lard of them, and selling it to his neighbors.

    He was arrested for having stolen the one live animal in his apartment, which he intended to kill today. The man’s apartment was found to contain many dog collars, muzzles, and leashes of the animals he stole.

    The man admits to having killed the animals, boiling them down, and preparing smalec (lard), the Polish delicacy. He has been selling this spread to his neighbors for the past fifty years.

    It is still unknown whether or not the police will prosecute the man for illegal food production and distribution. He does, however, face up to two years in prison for stealing dogs.

  • Sport...

    Eight Olympic champions visit Minsk to compete in World Cup clay target shooting finals

    From: Interfax
    Eight Olympic champions visit Minsk to compete in World Cup clay target shooting finals
    Held in Minsk September 26 through October 1, the final stage of the World Cup clay target shooting tournament will be there to witness eight Olympic champions, including five prizewinners of the Beijing Olympics, Interfax-West has learnt from the Belarusian Clay Target Shooting Federation (BCTSSF).

    Presently, the competition among Olympic champions is the most fierce in the trap shooting practice. Competing for the first prize in that category are winners of the four latest Olympic Games – Australia’s Michael Diamond (Olympic Champion of 1996, 2000), Russia’s Aleksei Alipov (2004), and Czech David Kosteletsky, who scooped an Olympic gold in Beijing. The skeet shooting contest has attracted 2004 Olympic Champion Andrea Benelli of Italy and Vincent Hancock (USA), who won an Olympic gold in Beijing. The double trap even will feature Walton Eller (USA, 2008 Olympic Champion). There will be just one shooter to represent Belarus – TSSFB chairman Andrei Geraschenko, who will compete in the skeet shooting contest.

    The shooting event will also feature gold-winners of the latest Olympics Chiara Cainero (Italy, skeet) and Satu Makela-Nummela (Finland, trap).

    The shooting tournament offers spectators three events: skeet (men and women), trap (men and women), double trap (men), which will be held at the dedicated Olympic premises at the Sporting Club of Minsk.

    Organized by the Ministry of Sport and Tourism, of Belarus and the Belarusian Clay Target Shooting Federation, the World Cup finals have attracted 57 shooters from 18 states.

    The opening ceremony is scheduled for 16:30 on September 27. The ceremony will be preceded by double trap finals scheduled for 15:00 on the same day.

    September 28 will see an official shooting practice for all participants in the World Cup finals and the Minsk Grand Prix within the framework of Belarus Cup Open, which will continue on Monday, September 29 along with women’s World Cup skeet (15:45) and trap (14:30) finals.

    Tuesday will be the most eventful day with men’s World Cup finals in trap (14:15) and skeet (15:15). The Tuesday event will be introduced by an hour-long Renato Lamera Show (Renato Lamera is Italy’s famous exhibition shooter and world record holder). The show is scheduled for 13:00. The closing ceremony is also scheduled for Tuesday (16:30).

    According to Chairman of the Belarusian Clay Target Shooting Federation, Andrei Geraschenko, it will be the first time Belarus and Eastern Europe in general has ever hosted such a high-profile sporting event.

    “We have been given the honour to host World Cup finals owing to our high technical standards and unique logistics of the Sporting Club, which is ideal for such events – the premises are located in the downtown area with all facilities available both for shooting and recreation,” Geraschenko said. The idea to hold World Cup finals in Minsk complies with the policy of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), which seeks to promote shooting sports in different states.

    sked whether Sporting Club is fully prepared to host such a prominent international sports event, Geraschenko said, “Everything was ready a week ago!” “The only concern we have is about the weather. The Olympics pushed the World Cup schedule to late September, which is a rainy season in Belarus,” Geraschenko said.

    According to his information, the entrance to all sporting events will be free for spectators.

    Geraschenko also emphasized the Sports and Tourism Ministry’s contribution to the preparations for World Cup finals.

    “The Belarusian Clay Target Shooting Federation received huge support with preparations on the part of the Ministry of Sports and Tourism. The support came from Sports Minister Alexander Grigorov and the president’s aide for sport and tourism promotion Gennadi Alexeyenko,” the federation chairman stressed. “There are purely patriotic motives behind what we do: we promote Belarus seeking to offer service beyond the highest expectations of the guest shooters,” Geraschenko said.

  • Endnote...

    Enlightened dictatorship lifts BATE

    From: UEFA
    Viktor Goncharenko has worked wonders at BATE
    FC BATE Borisov's progress to the UEFA Champions League group stage is all the more remarkable as coach Viktor Goncharenko is just 31 years old. Even so, the former defender's "partial dictatorship" is giving the Belarussian side a competitive edge.

    European record
    BATE's qualification for the competition proper remains perhaps the biggest story of the UEFA Champions League to date. Their club coefficient of 1.760 is the lowest of any group-stage contender, making their arrival at Europe's top table even more surprising than that of FC Artmedia Petrzalka, who played in the 2005/06 tournament with a then lowest ever coefficient of 4.850.

    Early retirement
    The Belarussian team's tale is a remarkable one in many ways. Founded only in 1996, their squad's average age is under 24 while coach Goncharenko celebrated his 31st birthday on Wednesday. First a defender with the club he joined in 1998, he was forced to retire at 25 after damaging cruciate ligaments but stayed on to become a crucial element in the BATE coaching system.

    Every angle
    Initially reserve-team coach, Goncharenko graduated to assistant coach before taking over as the boss in 2007. Working his way through the ranks helped him learn about the club from every angle and he now epitomises the BATE work ethic, with its values of honesty, reliability and consistency. "We are trying to work honestly and never kid ourselves," said owner Anatoliy Kapskiy.

    Eager student
    Goncharenko is an eager student of football, avidly studying new trends, and he has learned from his predecessors' successes and failures. "If our former coach Igor Kriushenko was a democrat, I came in to establish a partial dictatorship," said Goncharenko. "You can call me the democrat with dictatorial touches. Above all I want to see discipline. That is one of the main keys to success."

    Magic formula
    BATE's blossoming also owes much to careful management. Nurturing local players from the industrial city of Borisov as well as scouring Belarus for talented youngsters has been crucial. Of the current side, Pavel Nekhaychik, Maksim Zhavnerchik, Mikhail Sivakov, Aleksandr Gutor and Borisov-born Igor Stasevich all played under Goncharenko in the reserve side, while no-frills overseas signings have kept the annual budget down to 4m Euro.

    Cheap and cheerful
    A notable recent acquisition has been 21-year-old Russian defender Vladimir Rzhevski, who scored BATE's third qualifying round winner at PFC Levski Sofia. Having represented tiny FC Master-Saturn Egoryevsk in his home country, Rzhevski was plying his trade in the third division last term but will now compete against Real Madrid CF, Juventus and FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Group H.

    Sudden impact
    Regardless of how they fare among such exalted company, BATE's progress to this point will make a big difference at home. "We have a wonderful training base with two pitches and a recreational centre," explained Kapskiy. "But after our entry to the UEFA Champions League our budget will be doubled or raised even higher." If Goncharenko has got this far with 4m Euro, what could he achieve with that?

    BETA's next date in the UEFA Champions League – Group H is with Juventus in Minsk on Tuesday, 30 September.