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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lukashenko: More investments into Belarus necessary, EU cooperation discussed, Union State, Internet, Polish Scandal, Sport and Tanya comes back home

  • From the Top...
  • #363

    Alexander Lukashenko: larger markets and more investments into Belarus are necessary

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The President on a tour of the Vitebsk Region this week
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes it is necessary to work harder introducing economic management methods, encouraging the inflow of investments, reducing expenses and prime costs of products, expanding the market for selling products and services. Alexander Lukashenko made the statement at a session involving Vitebsk oblast top government officials on November 25.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored, reaching all the goals outlined by the five-year development plan is the key target. This is why more effective and purposeful work is necessary.

    “Putting it baldly, it will not be easy. Especially taking into account the global situation. The time requires everyone to show the strictest responsibility, energy, and perseverance in reaching the outlined goals. The wellbeing of specific companies and the entire country depends on it,” said the head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored, the advantage of Belarus’ development model allows neutralising the negative impact of the global financial crisis on economy to a large extent. “However, we cannot keep off these phenomena away with ‘an iron curtain’ and should take them into account in our work,” he said.

    Belarus President wants all state programmes to be implemented in full

    All state programmes in Belarus should be implemented in full, despite the global crisis.

    The Head of State thinks it necessary to revise all programmes and measures that were to be implemented, taking into consideration the dynamic development of the country. According to him, today it is necessary to fulfill all the projects that have been planned.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that he does not like the enterprises that buy more than sell. “Today we are saving foreign currency and it is hard to import products, especially not critical ones, but this situation came just in handy: we will put domestically manufactured products on the shelves,” the President underlined.

    According to the President, the global crisis had a smaller impact on Belarus from the point of view of market speculations. At the same time, it is hard for export-oriented enterprises to market their products abroad as the demand has fallen. Nevertheless, the main objective is to preserve the enterprises and jobs, to prevent the situation that happened after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

    According to the President, there are apprehensions that the coming year will be hard, but for many countries it will be the time for recovery and a way up. “We will hope that we will not lag behind, because we have gained vast experience of finding solutions in situations like this,” the Head of State added.

    Alexander Lukashenko: talented people in executive positions should be priority

    The search for leaders and the promotion of talented people to executive positions should be a priority of the state personnel policy, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a session involving Vitebsk oblast top government officials on November 25.

    The head of state underscored, executive authorities should take additional measures to provide all branches of the economy and the social sphere with well-trained personnel.

    According to the President, the provision of rural areas with qualified personnel remains an acute problem. Only 58% of top executives are university graduates. Many young professionals leave rural areas after working for the required time after graduation. “It requires more attentive attitude to their living and working standards, daily needs, and housing,” believes the head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko also pointed out, despite the dwindling shortage of medical personnel many positions are filled through holding more than one office. “Prohibiting secondary jobs for medics or denying jobs to experienced professionals above the retirement age are not the point. Well-considered renewal of the personnel for the sake of providing quality medical aid to the nation is required,” remarked the President.

    Belarus President urges for liberalization of all areas of life

    We should make people feel free, liberalize our life. It is crucial in a difficult situation. When serious economic problems emerged, as was the case of the mid 1990s and the 1998 default in Russia, the decisions were taken to make economic relations more liberal, Alexander Lukashenko said. According to him, it is essential to create more space in the economy, “so that people could act in a more free and fast way without impediments to their activities.”

    The President also underlined that the observance of human rights is his priority. “To ensure the right of people for a decent salary, for being able to live freely and say what you think is the main objective of the President,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He added that this should not be forgotten while trying to achieve high economic indices. “We are the world’s leaders regarding the settlement of such issues, I would say. Yet we still have so many problems affecting people’s life that it is painful even to talk about it,” the Head of State underlined.

    Decent social standards should be reached in all the areas of urban and rural life of the Vitebsk oblast.

    The Head of State pointed out the necessity to settle serious issues in the housing construction sector the Vitebsk oblast is facing. Alexander Lukashenko drew the attention to the necessity to streamline the health care system in the region, fight antisocial activities, and enforce the public discipline.

    “New technologies, cutting-edge production are a good thing, but they should not steal the limelight from a human being. It is high time we stepped up the activities aimed at improving daily life, culture and well-being of our people,” the President said.

    According to the Belarusian leader, the Vitebsk oblast sports schools are poorly equipped, 40% of them do not have a material and technical base of their own.

    Apart from that, Alexander Lukashenko drew the attention to the demographic situation. “According to sociologists, there should be at least three kids in every family. Here, however, most families have only one child. In the Vitebsk oblast, the number of people above the working age is 2.4% up the national average.

    Problem enterprises should break even

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has demanded that Vitebsk oblast problem enterprises should become breakeven and performance goals of the current five-year plan should be reached.

    The financial state of enterprises is one of the most aching spots in the oblast economy, the President believes. In his words, the oblast should have a clear view of the way out of the situation.

    In the industry quality, effectiveness, energy saving, the utmost frugality in using resources, and maximum reduction of costs are gaining primary importance. Only in this case Belarusian producers will be able to survive the acute competition on the domestic and foreign markets.

    Improvement of the investment and innovation climate, creation of conditions for highly effective manufacturing, and focus on smart solutions are also priorities. “Investments and innovations are our future, I would even say, our salvation. Without them it is impossible to create a competitive economy and raise the quality of products,” noted the head of state. The Vitebsk oblast should achieve better progress in petrochemistry, power engineering, mechanical engineering, communications and intellectual services. A lot has to be done for economic revival of economic entities and for overcoming loss-heavy operation in all branches of the national economy. Alexander Lukashenko mentioned gruesome state of municipal enterprises and poor state of light industry enterprises.

    As far as petrochemical industry is concerned, capital-intensive efforts have been put into remodelling and modernising Naftan and Polymir companies. A decision has been made to set up a united petrochemical enterprise in order to attract investors to global projects. The President believes the oblast administration should take an active part in this work.

    All bureaucratic barriers should be removed for the sake of successful business operation. In Belarus there are over 900 administrative procedures economic entities have to follow. Alexander Lukashenko remarked, he had commissioned the government with working out a draft legal act for maximum facilitation of the entire bureaucratic industry. “Certain liberalisation of the economy and de-bureaucratisation of all procedures should be carried out everywhere taking into account the accumulated experience and modern requirements,” said the President. He invited the local authorities to partake in working out the document and implementing it later.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus-EU cooperation discussed at Belarus-France consultations

    From: BelTA
    A special round of Belarusian-French foreign ministry consultations was held in Minsk on November 24. The consultations were initiated by the French side, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry.

    The sides discussed cooperation prospects between Belarus and the European Union, the neighbouring countries, the situation in the Caucasus, including the conflict in South Ossetia, some aspects of global security and bilateral cooperation.

    The Belarusian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky, the French delegation by Veronique Bujon-Barre, Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs, Security and Disarmament of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    Cross-border cooperation between Belarus and Baltic countries discussed in Sweden

    On November 24 Sweden’s Marstrand is hosting a three-day conference on cross-border cooperation of the Baltic region countries. A Belarusian delegation headed by Chairperson of the State Border Committee Major-General Igor Rachkovsky is attending the conference in the capacity of an observer, BelTA learnt from the press centre of the State Customs Committee of Belarus.

    The participants of the conference will sum up the activity of the council of the heads of border agencies of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS), define the priorities and elaborate the areas of activity and consider the proposals to intensify bilateral cooperation in combating various types of transnational crime in the Baltic region.

    During the session the sides are expected to consider the participation of Belarus in border operations, discuss the bilateral border cooperation with representatives of the neighbouring countries (Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia) and other European countries (Finland, Germany, Sweden), meet with the administration of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union /Frontex/.

    The CBSS member states will get familiar with the information concerning the role of the Belarusian border services in protection of the Belarus-EU border, the activity of Belarusian border guards in fight against trans-border organized crime, illegal migration and terrorism.

    The Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) is a political forum for regional intergovernmental cooperation. The members of the Council are 11 states of the Baltic Sea region: Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Estonia and the European Commission.

    More European parliamentarians advocate simpler visa requirements for Belarusians

    More and more European parliamentarians support the idea to remove visa barriers for the Belarusians, Arnoldas Pranckevicius, the Administrator of Interparliamentary delegations at the European Parliament, told BelTA.

    The official underscored that it is necessary to continue the talks regarding the simplification of visa regime between Belarus and the European Union in the light of long-term perspective of Belarus’ joining the European neighborhood policy. “Belarus should develop the relative legislation to expand trade, economic and financial partnership with the European Union. Of course, the Belarusian economic legislation can not be unified with the European standards to the full but we welcome its simplification and liberalization,” Arnoldas Pranckevicius noted. “In some distant future the conclusion of the free trade agreement can be discussed,” he added.

    The official also said that despite some problems of the political cooperation between Belarus and EU, it is possible to continue cooperation in such vital issues as energy, transport, ecology and customs. “Here we have a serious mutual interest,” the European politician highlighted.

    Union State construction will remain priority for Belarus’ parliamentarians, Vladimir Andreichenko says

    From: BelTA
    The Union State construction will remain a priority issue in the activity of the Belarusian parliamentarians, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vladimir Andreichenko told reporters after his meeting with Speaker of the State Duma of Russia Boris Gryzlov in St Petersburg on November 24, BelTA informs.

    According to Vladimir Andreichenko, the two sides discussed the economic issues including those related to the Russian energy prices for Belarus. “The concrete figures will be considered by the governments of the two countries. During today’s meeting the Russian side made Belarus confident that the consideration of this issue will take into account a fall in prices for oil,” he said.

    The Head of the House of Representatives informed the Russian colleague that the deputy corps of the fourth convocation had already formed all permanent commissions, delegations for cooperation with foreign parliaments. He emphasized that the National Assembly of the new convocation will preserve succession.

    The Belarusian Speaker said that Minsk will host a regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus-Russia Union State on December 9. The session will highlight all organizational issues, set up PA eight commissions (four commissions will be headed by Belarusian parliamentarians). Within the forthcoming session Belarusian parliamentarians are set to receive the status of the deputies of Belarus-Russia Union State PA.

    On November 24-25, a delegation of the National Assembly of Belarus is taking part in the events of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (IPA), the EurAsEC IPA and CSTO PA in St Petersburg. The delegation is led by Chairmen of the two chambers of the Belarusian parliament Boris Batura and Vladimir Andreichenko.

    Hans Jochen Schmidt: Belarus Internet media is absolutely free

    From: BelTA
    Hans Jochen Schmidt
    Internet media in Belarus is absolutely free, BelTA learnt from Head of the OSCE Office in Minsk Hans Jochen Schmidt on November 24.

    "Internet media in Belarus is absolutely free. No efforts are undertaken to curb the freedom of media,” he said. He thinks that more Belarusian printed press sources, including the ones that are not run by the state, should be represented in the Internet.

    Hans Jochen Schmidt underlined that “Belarus can be proud of being the CIS leader in terms of Internet users per capita.” According to him, as many as 22% of the country’s population are active Internet users.

    Aide to the President of Belarus, head of the Central Ideological Department of the Belarus President Administration Vsevolod Yanchevsky told reporters that the citizens of Belarus have always had access to alternative sources of information. “The state is interested in the issuance of all kinds of media provided the law is observed. Oppositional media has a kind of advantage over state-owned one, after all, it is always easer to criticize, but those who have no agenda other than to meet with fierce, sharp and uncompromising criticism absolutely all that is done by the government, doom themselves to sectarianism,” Vsevolod Yanchevsky concluded.

    Only local Internet filtering possible, Roland Bless says

    The Internet can be filtered only locally, said Roland Bless, Director of the OSCE Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, at a seminar held in Minsk on November 24 to discuss mass media freedom.

    “It is impossible to block Internet resources or use nation-wide filters. It is practically impossible taking into account the huge volume of various informational, linguistic, cultural and other differences,” he noted. Roland Bless said, for instance, Nazi websites are legal in the USA but forbidden in Germany and other European countries. “We have to put up with the fact that we will have to live with this discrepancy for at least several years to come,” he added.

    This is why the OSCE official believes that the Internet can be filtered only locally, for instance, in order to restrict access to certain websites for kids by every individual user.

    Speaking about possibilities of using the Internet in journalism, Roland Bless remarked, reporters should have the maximum free access. Apart from that, Internet literacy should be studied in all general education institutions. “The Internet is an instrument, which guarantees pluralism and free access to information,” concluded Roland Bless.

  • Economics...

    Belarus-Germany trade unaffected by global financial crisis

    From: BelTA
    The global financial crisis has not affected Belarus-Germany trade noticeably. It is testified by an analysis of the available current statistics, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Germany Vladimir Skvortsov told BelTA.

    “Meanwhile, we plan to discuss measures meant to minimise possible negative phenomena, which may emerge in the bilateral trade if negative effects of the crisis are combined, at the tenth session of the Belarusian-German working group for trade and investments in Berlin on November 26,” stressed the diplomat.

    Vladimir Skvortsov named the creation of favourable terms for mutual supplies without any limitations and widely available access to credit resources among such measures.

    According to the diplomat, the session of the working group will table two main topics: state and prospects of the bilateral trade and credit and investment cooperation between Belarus and Germany. There are plans to consider joint strategic projects in economy and power engineering.

    The Belarusian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Voronetsky. Meetings with officials of the German Foreign Ministry and the Federal Ministry for Economy and Technologies are supposed to take place.

    According to the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Germany is one of Belarus’ largest trade and economic partners and ranks fourth in mutual trade terms. In 2007 the bilateral trade totalled $2.9 billion, 20% up on 2006. German investments in Belarus’ economy stand at $309 million.

    Belarus Foreign Ministry helps Tatiana Kozyro return from USA

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the US authorities have taken all the necessary measures for underage Belarusian citizen Tatiana Kozyro to return from the USA. The girl successfully came back from the USA to Belarus on November 23, Maria Vanshina, Deputy Head of the Information Department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, told BelTA.

    In her words, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and competent US authorities have taken all the necessary measures for Tatiana’s return in line with an application made by Nadezhda Novik, her grandmother and guardian.

    The source said, following an instruction of the Foreign Ministry Belarus Consul in Washington Oleg Popov went to the city of Petaluma (California, USA) to arrange Tatiana’s departure, deal with formalities and escort her to Washington. Tatiana received the necessary consular aid during her return to Belarus.

    BelTA reported earlier, on August 5, 2008 Tatiana Kozyro, who had been on a recreational trip to the USA, was supposed to leave San Francisco for Minsk. However, the girl did not turn up at the airport on time. It turned out that she decided to stay in the USA and filed an application with the immigration service for her guest visa extension. Last week it turned out that Tatiana Kozyro wants to return to Belarus.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus leader says will not allow devaluation

    From: Guardian
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he would not allow a devaluation of the Belarussian rouble and that central bank spending to support the currency was "small". Belarus is in the process of negotiating a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, some of which may go towards supporting central bank reserves, which fell 11 percent in September through dollar sales on the interbank market.

    The official rate of the rouble on Tuesday was fixed at 2,151 per dollar, below a floor of 2,150 set in January but within a central bank band of 2,100-2,200/$.

    "In terms of the rouble, we will withstand the situation. We have accumulated a specific level of reserves, and today we are not using a lot," Lukashenko was quoted by state media as saying in the northern town of Vitebsk.

    He said Belarus would fulfil conditions set by the IMF, which is due to come back in December to continue talks on the loan. Authorities have said that the IMF had demanded a reduction in state spending as a condition for the loan.

    The veteran president also said that the Belarussian economic model -- considerable control over economic activity rests in the state's hands -- has allowed the ex-Soviet state to escape sharp knocks from the global financial crisis.

    Belarus president warns of new arms race in Europe

    From: AFP
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko warned of a new arms race in Europe and derided his opponents in an interview with AFP on Monday that also left the door open to better ties with the West.

    Lukashenko, who has ruled this former Soviet republic of 10 million people for 14 years, also said that he planned to run for another presidential term in 2011 and that Belarus would retain "very strong relations" with Russia.

    "You fly NATO planes near our country's borders. Why? We begin strengthening our air defences. This is pushing a mini arms race," Lukashenko said in an exclusive interview in the presidential administration in central Minsk.

    "We are very concerned about what's happening on our borders," he said.

    "Why expand and strengthen NATO? Let's rather think about how we can dismantle this military machine... It's absolutely unnecessary," he added.

    Lukashenko also said that Belarus was planning to buy Russian short-range Iskander missiles to bolster its air defences but said that this was not a response to US missile defence plans and that Europe should stop worrying.

    "What is it with the Iskanders? What's Europe's problem with Iskander? Why is it seen as such a dangerous weapon? There's nothing dangerous. I emphasise that Europe is worrying about this in vain," Lukashenko said.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this month said Russia would deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave, located between Poland and Lithuania, in response to US missile defence plans in Eastern Europe.

    Asked about Western criticism of his hardline rule, Lukashenko shifted nervously in his armchair in the former Communist Party headquarters and laughed off his political opponents, calling them "common criminals."

    He said the European Union's calls for democratic reforms in Belarus were unfounded but added that he could scrap a controversial criminal charge of slander against the president if the EU could offer something in return.

    "If the European Union and the Americans want this so much and are ready to offer us something then... we'll cancel the slander article" from the criminal code, he said.

    He was referring to a controversial article in the criminal code under which some opponents have been jailed.

    "I'm pretty bored of this question about so-called political prisoners. There are no political crimes and there can therefore be no political prisoners. They're common criminals," he said.

    "You wanted us to release them? We released them... But if you think these political prisoners are going to be released and are going to completely change life here, you're wrong. They're complete has-beens," he added.

    In a mocking tone, the Belarussian leader also said that the scores of young activists arrested at demonstrations against his rule were "unconscious and drunk" and needed their sentences of 10 or 15 days in prison to recover.

    Belarus this year released leading Lukashenko opponents including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin and former member of parliament Andrei Klimov. The European Union has since lifted some sanctions on Belarus.

    Lukashenko said better relations with Europe were "taking root" and that a new US administration could improve frosty ties with Washington. The current US administration has branded Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe."

    Belarus could be a "bridge" between Russia and Europe that would guarantee stable energy supplies from Russia, he said. But he also emphasised ties with Moscow, saying that Russians and Belarussians "are basically one people."

    Asked about the possibility of retiring, the 54-year-old Lukashenko said he planned to run for another presidential term. Lukashenko's reforms to the constitution have removed any term limits to his rule.

    "If I'm healthy, if the situation is normal and if people have similar attitudes towards me, then I won't refuse the candidature, I won't turn down participation in the elections" scheduled for 2011, he said.

    The president also said that the global financial crisis had shown that his country's largely state-controlled economy was more resilient than other European economies and that his hardline stance had been proved right.

    "Europeans are talking more and more about the Belarussian model," he said.

    Belarus President Hopes For Bill Clinton's Return

    In a related story, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko Monday welcomed the possible return of Bill Clinton if his wife Hillary is made U.S. secretary of state, saying this could thaw frosty U.S.-Belarus ties.

    "I think at some stage we'll manage to have solid negotiations... I'm counting on this. I'm counting on Bill," Lukashenko told AFP in an interview in which he said he had "friendly relations" with the former president.

    "We want a normal dialogue and I think if Bill tells Hillary about this... she'll listen - also because he played a big role in the Democrats' election campaign," Lukashenko said when asked about the new U.S. administration.

    Reports have said Hillary Clinton is ready to accept president elect Barack Obama's offer to be secretary of state, but the New York senator's aides have played down reports that she has already signed up to the job.

    Belarus Is the Friendliest for Russians

    From: Kommersant
    Nearly a half of respondents (48 percent) in Russia called Belarus the friendly country, signaled the poll of All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies aimed at revealing how the residents of ex-Soviet republics treat each other.

    The Russians treat very decently Kazakhstan (33 percent) and Ukraine (22 percent). What’s more, some 37 percent of respondents advocate the interstate union of Russia and Belarus, while 29 percent will unite with Ukraine and 24 percent will favor Kazakhstan.

    The Baltic nations are the least popular in Russia (4 percent).

    According to Eurasian Monitor Agency, 74 percent of Belarus respondents view Russia the friendliest state, while 39 percent think it is Ukraine and 23 percent choose Kazakhstan for this purpose. The least friendly are Tadjikistan (5 percent) and Estonia (4 percent). More than a half of respondents (56 percent) are willing to unite with Russia but 25 percent would rather favor the EU for it.

    Russia is a friend for more than a half in Ukraine (58 percent), while 39 percent prefer Belarus there. For Ukrainians, the least friendly are Kirgizia, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan (6 percent each). As to potential union, 47 percent in Ukraine would like to close ranks with Russia, 29 percent prefer Belarus and 21 percent would rather unite with the EU.

    In Georgia, 69 percent name Ukraine the friendliest nation. Azerbaijan is the next with 41 percent, and each fifth think Latvia (22 percent) and Lithuania (22 percent) the best friend. The least friendly are Kirgizia and Tadjikistan (1 percent each). As to the potential consolidation, 37 percent in Georgia would unite with the EU.

    Eurasian Monitor held its poll in April through June of 2008, covering 16,143 in 13 countries worldwide. It was All-Russia’s Center for Public Opinion Studies that polled the Russians, covering 1,600 in 140 settlements. The statistic error doesn’t exceed 3.4 percent.

    Belarus: stocks of fruit and vegetable preserving increased

    From: Fresh Plaza
    BelaPAN agency referring to the National statistics Committee reported that as of November 1, stocks of fruit and vegetable preserving increased by 3.6 times from to the average monthly statistical production volume.

    The stocks totaled 71.1 mln of conditional jars (mcj). Stocks of all preserves totaled 110.1 mcj or 240.4 % to the average monthly production. During the year, stocks increased by 39.3%. During 9 months of the current year, production of fruit and vegetable preserves increased by 30%, compared to the same period of the last year to 231.6 mcj, all preserves - by 22.7% to 495.5 mcj.

    During January-October of 2008, stocks of sugar at Belarusian enterprises exceeded the average statistical production volume by 3.3 times. During the year, sugar stocks decreased by 26%. As of November 1, 150.600 tonnes of sugar were in the enterprises’ storages. During January-October, 461.500 tonnes of sugar were produced in the country, up 5.2%, compared to the same period of the last year.

    In general, during the reporting period, production level on food industry enterprises increased by 9.5% and reached the level of 4.819 billion euro.

  • From the Opposition...

    Lukashenka: Belarus will abandon criminalizing slander against president if West offers something in return

    From: Naveny and Charter '97
    Belarus will abolish the Criminal Code article that penalizes slander against the president if the European Union and the United States offer something in return, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday, BelaPAN said.

    "If the European Union and the Americans want this so much and are ready to offer us something, then... we'll cancel the slander article," AFP quotes the Belarusian leader as saying.

    "I'm pretty bored of this question about so-called political prisoners,” Mr. Lukashenka said, according to AFP. “There are no political crimes and there can therefore be no political prisoners. They're common criminals. You wanted us to release them? We released them.... But if you think these political prisoners are going to be released and are going to completely change life here, you're wrong. They're complete has-beens."

    “In a mocking tone, the Belarusian leader also said that the scores of young activists arrested at demonstrations against his rule were ‘unconscious and drunk’ and needed their sentences of 10 or 15 days in prison to recover,” AFP reports.

    Article 367 of the Criminal Code currently in force, which was adopted in 1999, criminalizes slander against the President and carries a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison. Several opponents of the government, including journalists Mikalay Markevich, Pavel Mazheyka and Viktar Ivashkevich, have been convicted under this article. Prominent opposition politicians Anatol Lyabedzka and Andrey Klimaw were also prosecuted under the article, but those cases were eventually dropped.

    Messrs. Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka were convicted of slander against the President after, in the run-up to a presidential election in 2001, the Hrodna-based private newspaper Pahonya carried an article wondering whether Mr. Lukashenka could run for reelection while being widely suspected of involvement in the disappearances of his opponents. In June 2002, the chief editor, former lawmaker Markevich, and the author of the article, Mr. Mazheyka, were sentenced to 2 1/2 and 2 years of "restricted freedom" and corrective labor. Their sentences were later shortened by one year under an amnesty.

    In 2003, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) petitioned the Constitutional Court to examine the constitutionality of Article 367, as well as Article 368, which penalizes a public insult against the President, and Article 369, which criminalizes the defamation of other government officials. The Constitutional Court then rejected the petition but recommended the National Assembly to clarify the articles, suggesting adding a clause whereby criticism that does not slander, defame or dishonor officials or involve the use of abusive language should not be viewed as a criminal offense. The legislature ignored the recommendation and nothing has changed since then.

    Lukashenka: “I’m counting on Bill...”

    In a related story, Alyaksandr Lukashenka hopes former US President Bill Clinton may soon return to policy that will improve relations between Belarus and the United States. He told it in an interview to Agency France Press on November 24.

    US President elect Barack Obama suggested Bill Clinton’s wife Hilary a post of US Secretary of State and she accepted it. Besides, the new administration will consist of other officials from Bill Clinton’s government.

    In Lukashenka’s view, Belarus and the United States will start negotiations. “I'm counting on this. I'm counting on Bill,” the Belarusian president said. He told about his “friendly” relations with the former US president.

    “We want a normal dialogue and I think if Bill tells Hillary about this... she'll listen - also because he played a big role in the Democrats' election campaign," Lukashenka said.

    "If the European Union and the Americans want this so much and are ready to offer us something then... we'll cancel the slander article,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka said.

    Answering a question on global financial crisis’s influence on Belarusian economy, he stressed that crisis made everyone, first of the Europeans” learn a lot. “Europeans are talking more and more about the Belarusian model.”

    A. Lukashenka also said, “If I'm healthy, if the situation is normal and if people have similar attitudes towards me, then I won't refuse the candidature, I won't turn down participation in the elections.”

  • Around the region...

    Resurgent Russia makes waves in Latin America

    From: Reuters
    Russia's foray into Latin America comes at an uncertain time for the region, especially for staunch U.S. ally Colombia, as the U.S. economy totters, the Bush administration fades and Democrat Barack Obama takes over the White House promising to retool U.S. foreign policy.

    Moderate governments like Brazil may welcome Russian trade, but they are also skeptical over attempts to use President Dmitry Medvedev's visit and naval exercises with Venezuela as a geopolitical tool to taunt Washington in its own backyard.

    Colombia will be wary as Moscow flexes its muscle and cozies up to Chavez, a fierce Washington adversary who has clashed with his neighbor before over its leftist rebels and White House policies in the region.

    Already nervous about Russian arms sales to Venezuela, Colombia has begun courting Moscow and seeking guarantees, especially over the exercises in the Caribbean's Gulf of Venezuela, where Bogota and Caracas have a maritime dispute.

    "Are we going to bring a Cold War to the Gulf? I don't think it is a threat. We can't see it that way, but these exercises ... in areas under dispute are complicated for us," former President Andres Pastrana told El Tiempo newspaper.

    Although Washington says it is unconcerned, it acknowledges it is monitoring Russia's moves. OPEC-member Venezuela and gas giant Russia are increasing energy and military cooperation as Moscow-Washington ties are strained over the Georgia war and U.S. missile defense plans in eastern Europe.

    Russia has signed oil deals and sold billions of dollars in military hardware to Venezuela, offered military cooperation to Ecuador and trade to Brazil. Medvedev will meet Chavez before strengthening ties with Cuba in a visit to Havana.

    Colombia, which has received billions in U.S. aid to fight rebels, says its relationship with Washington is not exclusive, and is seeking to diversify its markets as economic crisis grips its important trade partner.

    Russia's foreign minister met President Alvaro Uribe last week in Bogota, where they focused on trade. Colombia secured guarantees the exercises will not go near areas under dispute.

    Colombia and Venezuela nearly went to war over the gas-rich Gulf of Venezuela waters in the 1980s.

    "I don't see a security threat, but Venezuela is a neighbor with a capacity to be a protagonist in the global context and Colombia is being left in a limited position," said Rodrigo Pardo, a former foreign minister. "Colombia is looking to prevent something that may be negative for its interests."


    Russia's push into Latin America follows China, which for years has been increasing commercial ties in the region.

    Medvedev's visit to Latin America also comes at a time when Colombia's special relationship with Washington is under review. Obama resists a free trade deal for Uribe and will likely demand stricter rights conditions on new aid.

    His trip may serve to irk Washington. But Russia appears more motivated by commerce than by forging Cold War-style frontlines lines in Latin America, said Shannon O'Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    "Russia is more interested in making inroads across the continent than they are in picking out particular countries," she said.

    Medvedev visited Brazil to sign aerospace, nuclear and defense industry deals. But Brazil will likely demand more in return. It says Russia is acting slowly to reform the U.N. Security Council, where the South American giant wants a seat.

    Brazil also wants U.S. ties to improve under Obama.

    "We're not interested in some 19th century-style, Bismarckian politics of balance of power," said Brazilian Strategic Affairs Minister Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

    Mexico and other center-right governments with close trade ties to the United States are likely to be unfazed by the Russian visit even if it ruffles U.S. feathers, said Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister.

    "The Western Hemisphere has great expectations for Obama," said Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador to Bogota. "If Obama as president shows interest in the region, Medvedev's visit will soon be forgotten except, perhaps, in the three countries he will visit."

    Russia murder trial judge queried

    From: BBC
    Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead on her doorstep
    Prosecutors in the trial of three men charged over the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya have demanded the dismissal of the judge.

    Judge Yevgeny Zubov has reportedly been accused of bias and failing to follow correct procedures in the case.

    He has withdrawn from the court in Moscow while the demand is considered, with a decision expected on Wednesday.

    Ms Politkovskaya, a leading critic of Russia's policies in Chechnya, was shot dead outside her Moscow home in 2006.

    Ms Politkovskaya's supporters believe state security agents were involved in her murder - and for that reason, they say, there will never be a fair trial at Moscow's military court.

    The three men on trial are charged with involvement in the murder plot - but not with either carrying out the murder or ordering it.

    New twist

    The challenge to the presiding judge by the Prosecutor General's Office was the latest twist in a day of courtroom drama.

    Earlier on Tuesday, the judge decided to re-open the trial to the public and lift a ban on journalists covering it.

    He had originally declared the trial open when the hearings opened earlier this month, but last week said it would be held behind closed doors, prompting protests from Ms Politkovskaya's family and lawyers.

    Reports suggest prosecutors have questioned Judge Zubov's handling of media access to jurors and lawyers involved in the case and accused him of bias.

    Earlier on Tuesday, the judge told the court he was dismissing one juror for breaking rules on not discussing the case in public.

    On the same day, defence lawyer Murad Musayev told reporters that Russian prosecutors had suggested that someone abroad ordered Ms Politkovskaya's killing.

    But, Mr Musayev told the court, one of the theories written in the case notes suggested that an unnamed politician, based in Russia, was behind her death.

    Earlier reports suggested Mr Musayev had said the theory involving the politician inside Russia was the correct one, but he later said that this was only one of the proposals included in the case notes.

    He added the indictment mentioned Ms Politkovskaya's articles as a motive for her killing.


    Three men - former policeman Sergey Khadzhikurbanov and two Chechen brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov - are charged with involvement in the murder plot, but not with either carrying out the murder or ordering it.

    Pavel Ryaguzov, an officer with Russia's security service, has also appeared before the court. He is charged with abuse of office and extortion.

    Investigators have said Rustam Makhmudov - a third brother from the same Chechen family who is believed to have fired the fatal shot - and the person or persons who ordered Mr Politkovskaya's killing remain at large.

    Some of Ms Politkovskaya's colleagues have described the trial as a "farce".

    Investigative reporters

    The murder of Ms Politkovskaya, who wrote for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, shocked the international community but did not have the same impact in Russia.

    Ms Politkovskaya had frequently travelled to Chechnya and the North Caucasus, where her dispatches described some of the horror of a war where most of the casualties were civilians.

    She was the 13th journalist to be killed in a contract-style killing in Russia during Vladimir Putin's period as president, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

    Mr Putin - who had served the maximum two consecutive terms in office - was succeeded by Dmitry Medvedev in May.

    US cools on NATO path for Georgia, Ukraine

    From: AFP
    The United States on Tuesday cooled its support for a formal path to help Georgia and Ukraine join NATO, amid opposition not just from Russia but also from Germany and France.

    Speaking to reporters ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting next week in Brussels, senior US diplomat Daniel Fried sounded conciliatory notes about how the two former Soviet republics should join the transatlantic alliance.

    The issue of an alliance membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia and Ukraine had taken "on a life of its own" since a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Bucharest in April, he said.

    In April, the 26-member NATO postponed any decision on offering the two nations a MAP until the December foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

    Fried stressed that the controversy was over the MAP -- which is only a "way station" and "mechanism" to achieving full membership -- rather than over the long-term goal of having the two join.

    "MAP is not the only way to get there," he said.

    "I cannot tell you where foreign ministers will come out in this debate," said Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs who will travel to Brussels with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

    "But we think, rather than have a huge debate on MAP, ... we ought to concentrate on the areas where the alliance is already agreed, which is that these countries will join NATO but they have a lot of work to do," he added.

    With nine former Soviet bloc countries already NATO members, Russia is fiercely opposed to more Soviet-era Warsaw Pact neighbors like Georgia and the Ukraine even starting the process of joining the western military alliance.

    NATO set up the MAP program in 1999 to support prospective members of the military alliance while they carry out the economic, legal, military and political reforms needed to join.

    "Let's not debate theology. Let's help Georgia build up much stronger institutions, consolidate its democracy....," he said.

    "I think it's fair to predict there would be no NATO membership offer for some years to come -- just taking a look at these countries (Georgia and Ukraine) realistically," Fried said.

    In October President George W. Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said that there was "no reason" why Georgia and Ukraine should not be given a MAP.

    Perino also said Washington had seen "growing support for Georgia and Ukraine given what happened this summer when Russia invaded Georgia," referring to the armed conflict between the neighbors over Georgia's breakaway regions.

    NATO members are divided, however, because they see that while membership could stabilize Georgia and Ukraine, it may also raise tensions with Moscow, which considers the move a threat to its own security.

    However, France and Germany are opposed, arguing that the early August conflict between Russia and Georgia shows how the move could exacerbate tensions in the Caucasus region.

    At the NATO meeting, Fried said, Rice will also discuss US plans to set up an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic -- strongly opposed by Russia -- as well as a strategy to win the war in Afghanistan.

    During her tour of Europe, Rice will also visit London, Rome, Helsinki and Copenhagen.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Prominent Polish Politicians to Face Trial over Insulting Obama

    From: Novinite
    The Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Radoslaw Sikorsky has stirred a big scandal with his statement that the grandfather of the US President-elect Barack Obama has been cannibal, a joke that was deemed shocking by his fellow Polish politicians.

    Sikorsky, who is an Oxford graduate had said laughing "His grandfather ate a Polish missionary years ago."

    The Polish authorities have asked that Sikorsky is sued for racism.

    Another Polish politician, the Member of the Polish Parliament Arthur Gorsky, is also going to face the tribunal over accusations of racism. The reason is another statement about Obama, who Gorsky described as the "black messiah of the new left."

    Gorsky further defined Obama's presidential win as the "end of white man's civilization."

    Citibank making shady money off unsuspecting spenders

    From: The News
    Clients of Citibank that have been recently using their debit cards outside of Poland are finding suspicious charge on their accounts, according to Dziennik.

    The paper reports that the bank has been charging 10 percent higher than the average daily exchange rate on purchases made in U.S. dollars. The U.S. Office of Consumer Protection is investigating the case, especially in light of the fact that clients have been over-charged up to several hundreds of zloty claims the daily.

    Dziennik gives the example of 50-year-old Ryszard from Poland who returned from the U.S. two weeks ago. The paper writes that he used his credit card for purchases since the Citibank card offered zero percent provisions and to use the National Bank of Poland’s (NBP) average daily exchange rate. Apparently, upon return to the country, the daily reports that he paid an exchange rate of 3.25 zloty to the dollar when the NBP rate was 2.97 zloty to the dollar. The paper claims that banks are able to change rates as they wish, but to hide the fact is simply dishonest.

    Studying in Poland easy, but useless?

    From: The News
    Bluto Blutarski: Seven years of college down the drain!
    Even though in Poland you can be admitted to university without much difficulty, a Polish degree does not guarantee you a career, according to research by the EU think-tank Lisbon Council.

    According to the study conducted in 14 EU countries plus the United States, Switzerland and Australia, the best educational systems are in Australia, Great Britain, Denmark and worst in Germany, Austria and Spain.

    Of all surveyed countries, in Poland it is easiest to start university education, but the country’s weakness is a lack of adjusting the curriculum to the demands of the job market. Hence, in the ranking of countries where studies guarantee a good job, Poland came last in 17th place.

    Since a Polish university degree is not enough in Poland’s competitive job market, more and more Polish people want to study abroad. Currently Poles are the 6th largest group of foreigners at British universities.

    Data of the Higher Education Statistics Agency indicate that in the academic year 2006/2007, there were 6,770 Poles studying in the UK, while only a year earlier, the number of Polish students amounted to 4,325. Additionally, some 14,000 Poles are studying in Germany.

  • Sport...

    'Raul' Madrid bounces back to edge BATE Borisov

    From: Sports Network
    Raul added to his record Champions League goal total, scoring in the seventh minute of a key 1-0 win over BATE Borisov on Tuesday that snapped a rare-two game skid for the Spanish champions and secured a spot in the knockout stage.

    Raul's goal was his 62nd all-time in the Champions League - his first this year - and helped Real Madrid bounce back from consecutive losses to Juventus. Real hadn't lost consecutive games in the group stage in a decade.

    Real, which is 3-2 and second in Group H after five matches, still has a chance to win the group on the final matchday. Juventus tied Zenit St. Petersburg 0-0, and holds a two-point edge.

    Madrid and Juventus are both through to the knockout stage, and were joined in the next round by Arsenal, Bayern Munich, FC Porto, Lyon, Manchester United and Villarreal on Tuesday.

    Raul put Real in control early at Minsk's Dynamo Stadium, scoring in the opening minutes to erase BATE's homefield advantage.

    Royston Drenthe set up the goal with a cross from the left that sneaked through a host of players and found Raul on the far post. Raul twisted to take a quick shot with his left foot, catching the ball just after a small hop, and hammered it off the underside of the crossbar and into the goal.

    Real goalie Iker Casillas had no trouble making the lead hold, facing just one shot on goal.

  • Cultural scene...

    Second stage of Belarus’ Opera and Ballet Theatre to be competed by December 1, Alexander Kosinets says

    From: BelTA
    The second construction stage of the Belarusian Opera and Ballet Theatre will be competed by December 1, 2008, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets told reporters on November 22.

    According to him, the first construction phase was competed in 2007. The area of the second phase totals 9,500 square metres. The construction of the major stage will be finished by December 25. The ?16.5 million worth of stage equipment was assembled by the German company. The total area of the theatre increased by 8,000 up to almost 37,000 square metres.

    Alexander Kosinets gave eight out of ten points to the readiness of the theatre. “There are some drawbacks and defects but they cannot spoil that magnificence created at the construction site. The Opera and Ballet Theatre has already become one of the most beautiful places in Minsk. No doubt, it will enrich the list of European wonderful architectural monuments,” he said.

    The building face is almost ready. The sculptures of muses – dance, theatre, music and poetry – were placed in four niches. Alexander Kosinets said in the near future this ensemble will be expanded: a bronze figure of Apollo will be put at the central part of the roof. The sculpture will be ready by December 20.

    The Vice Premier said that “such objects are normally constructed within some five years. We manage to complete this immense building in three years”. Over the past three years the facility utilized Br235 billion.

  • Endnote...

    Teen back in Belarus, 4 months late

    From: Press Democrat
    After nearly four months of stubborn resistance, a Belarusian teenager who sparked an international dispute when she refused to leave her Petaluma host family at the end of a six-week summer visit has gone home, officials said Monday.

    Tanya Kazyra, a 16-year-old from the town of Borisov, near Minsk, boarded a plane Saturday at San Francisco International Airport and returned to her grandmother -- and throngs of Russian-language reporters -- on Sunday, said Ruth Williams, a director with the Chernobyl Children's Project of Marin and Sonoma counties.

    Despite Kazyra's early insistence that she be allowed to stay with the family of Manuel and Debra Zapata, whom she had been visiting for nine summers, Kazyra missed her 61-year-old grandmother and was concerned about sanctions imposed on trips by other children because of her actions, Williams said.

    "I think she's a teenager," Williams said. "What seemed like a good idea in August didn't seem like a good idea a few months later. She didn't quite realize what it meant to stay."

    Belarusian embassy officials in Washington confirmed Kazyra had gone home at her own request. Oleg Kravchenko, charge de affairs, said she would not face prosecution in the former Soviet state and could return if she wished.

    It was unclear if Kazyra's compliance would prompt Belarus to lift a ban on so-called respite trips to the United States for children living in the path of the 1986 nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine.

    The government has urged a treaty with the United States to ensure its children return. Also, it said any future trips would be limited to children 13 and under who could travel to the United States no more than three times each.

    It was unknown if trips would resume by summer.

    "About half of our children would not be allowed to return," said Cecelia Calhoun, Belarus liaison for the Children of Chernobyl U.S. Alliance, the umbrella group for numerous affiliated programs nationwide.

    Manuel and Debra Zapata, who encouraged Kazyra to stay, drawing criticism from host families nationwide, did not return calls Monday seeking comment.

    Lito Zapata, their 21-year-old son who is a Marine lance corporal stationed at Camp Pendleton, said the family was heartbroken over Kazyra's decision to leave.

    "Our family was pretty much blindsided," Zapata said. "After being told one thing for so long and loving her like a daughter and family member . . . then all of a sudden, she does this."

    Kazyra, who had been visiting Petaluma since she was 8, shocked organizers when she failed to show up at the airport Aug. 5. That's when she was to return with her group of 24 other Belarusian children aged 7 to 17 and two adult chaperones who had visited the North Coast for part of the summer.

    Instead of taking Kazyra to the airport as scheduled, her host family hired a lawyer and announced she would stay with them indefinitely.

    The teen explained in interviews with The Press Democrat that she had grown attached to the Zapatas, whom she called her real family. Back home, she had to contend with an abusive father and his drug-addicted friends, she said.

    "I love this family," she said in an early August interview at the Zapatas' house.

    But the Belarusian government insisted Kazyra return. Initially, it said Kazyra was kidnapped.

    In August and September, Belarus dispatched envoys to Petaluma to plead with the teen to come home. They were all rebuffed by Kazyra, who said her tourist visa was good until Dec. 25 and she had permission from her grandmother to remain in the country.

    However, it didn't end there. The situation was being watched closely by host families nationwide who bring in as many as 1,400 Belarusian children a year.

    At a national convention of host families in Raleigh, N.C., in October, Williams made a presentation about Kazyra to people concerned she had jeopardized the program.

    Williams then went to Washington, where she talked to members of Congress, officials at the State Department and Belarusian embassy officials.

    Once back in Petaluma, she and other organizers met again the Zapata family, who maintained they could best provide for Kazyra.

    But Kazyra had a change of heart about three weeks ago. Williams said they had a frank discussion with her using a Russian orthodox priest as an interpreter.

    "She was just ready to go home," Williams said. "She was concerned about hurting anyone."

    Russian news reported Kazyra may have been influenced by the pending departure of the Zapatas' son for military duty in Iraq. Also, the report said Kazyra felt neglected because the Zapatas' daughter was spending more time with a boyfriend.

    Lito Zapata said Kazyra seemed to crave attention. When media reports died down and she settled in as a member of the family, she may have lost interest in remaining in Petaluma, he said.

    "For six weeks during the summer she got extreme attention," he said. "When all that stuff went down this year she was more a part of the family like me and my sister and younger brother. It's obviously a lot less attention. That might have been hard for her."

    The Belarusian news agency Belapan said Kazyra was glad to be back at her grandmother's small, wooden house on the outskirts of Barysaw. The agency said the two women live in one half of the house and Kazyra's father lives in the other half. The grandmother has worked almost all her life at a local cut-glass factory, the news agency said.

    She said in the report she felt sorry that her sudden departure hurt her "American parents."

    "I'll contact them by phone and talk to them, but I won't go there any more," she said in the report.

    If she did want to return to Petaluma, Kazyra would have to wait until she turns 18 in December 2009, Williams said.

    But that seems unlikely.

    As the date of her return flight approached, Kazyra grew more and more eager to see her grandmother, Williams said.

    She had missed school and was also anxious to get on with her studies. She is a senior, Williams said.

    "She was very excited to go home," said Williams, whose husband, Brandon, was among a group of adults who took her to the airport. "She couldn't wait to get on the airplane."