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Sunday, December 14, 2008

President: EU urgently needs Belarus, EurAsEC, NATO, Iran, Microrobots, Gazprom, Hammers banned, Financial news, Culture and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #368

    EU urgently needs good relations with Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    "Italy has always held a pragmatic position with regard to Belarus," said President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at today’s meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Italian Republic to the Republic of Belarus Norberto Cappello. "The pragmatism lies in the fact that it is impossible to exclude from the European family the state which is situated in the centre of Europe. We are open in our relations with the European Union and are prepared to normalize our relations completely," said Alexander Lukashenko.
    The European Union urgently needs good political and economic relations with Belarus, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy to Belarus Norberto Cappello in view of expiry of the diplomat’s term in office on December 11.

    Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that Belarus is absolutely open in the relations with the European Union and has been pursuing a pragmatic policy. “We do not play any games. This is not in our interests. We are quite open in the relations with the European Union. We would like to thoroughly normalize our relations if the European Union wants this,” the Head of State said.

    Belarus is categorically against any preliminary conditions in this process, the President underscored. “We do not lay down any conditions, though we do have some questions to the EU and to some individual countries,” he added. Alexander Lukashenko noted that it is necessary to conduct a dialogue, make agreements rather than shun each other. According to him, many challenges have appeared and they cannot be tackled without Belarus.

    Addressing the Italian Ambassador, the Head of State thanked him for the positive contribution to the normalization of relations between Belarus and the European Union. According to the President, those positive changes, which have taken place in the relations between Belarus and the European Union would have been impossible without Italy. “We consider your mission in Belarus as positive. Despite the complicated relations with the EU, Italy was holding one of the key positions while you were in office. The pragmatism lies in the fact that it is impossible to exclude the state, which is situated in the centre of Europe, from the European family. We are thankful for this position,” the Head of State said.

    Alexander Lukashenko took note of a significant growth of trade between Belarus and Italy, which can reach $1 billion this year. Both Belarusian export to Italy and import from that country have been increasing. Belarus is interested, first and foremost, in Italian products and technology.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus hopes on an inflow of Italian investment. According to the Head of State, Belarus will welcome the Italian business on a broad scale. In 2002-2007 Belarus attracted more than $100 million of investment from Italy, in January-September this year almost $4 million. There are 87 companies with Italian investment in Belarus including 47 joint ventures and 40 foreign companies. The total amount of investments in their authorized funds reached $10 million. There are 12 offices of Italian organisations in Belarus.

    In turn, the Ambassador of Italy to Belarus noted that humanitarian cooperation has become the solid basis for the development of bilateral relations, and the interest of Italian business circles has aroused from that kind of cooperation.

    Norberto Capello noted the progress in the relations between Belarus and the European Union, expansion of the range of certain issues on negotiation table. This is in the interests of the whole Europe, he said.

    EU ready for talks on Belarus’ accession to WTO

    Belarus has been notified about the readiness of the European Union for negotiations on the country’s accession to the World Trade Organisation, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Andrei Yevdochenko said at a session of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on December 10.

    He said, Belarus expects to receive a similar readiness notification from the USA soon following changes of the US leadership. “We expect the notification in January-February,” said the Deputy Foreign Minister. He remarked Belarus now concentrates on bilateral negotiations on the WTO entry.

    According to the official, 21 countries have said they are ready to hold the talks. Negotiations have been completed and protocols have been signed with ten countries. The number includes China, France, India, and Bulgaria. Negotiations with Malaysia, Brazil, and South Korea are close to completion, said Andrei Yevdochenko.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus takes over EurAsEC Interstate Council presidency

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has taken over the EurAsEC Interstate Council presidency on the level of the heads of government, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky following the session of this organization held in Moscow on December 12.

    According to him, the session considered 23 issues, including the ones regarding the EurAsEC Customs Union formation. The session signed 15 intergovernmental agreements on the formation of the legal framework of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan and 3 EurAsEC agreements.

    Sergei Sidorsky informed that President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko who was elected Chairman of the EurAsEC Interstate Council for 2009 has sent a message to the EurAsEC member states.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, the message points out the issues that require priority attention. It pertains to the development of the Customs Code and the unified customs tariff, the formation of the common energy and transportation market, development of a mechanism to implement EurAsEC decisions.

    The message emphasizes the necessity to unconditionally execute the agreements that have been signed and to seize every opportunity to fulfill a major task that the EurAsEC faces – to raise the efficiency of the national economies for the benefit of the nations.

    Cooperation between EurAsEC countries helps preserve stability, Vladimir Putin says

    The cooperation between the EurAsEC countries is one of the most effective methods to preserve stability in the Commonwealth, Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin said at a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council in Moscow on December 12, BelTA informs.

    The Russian Premier stressed that Russia would like to see closer integration between the EurAsEC member states. He also said that Russia will do everything to avoid sharp fluctuations of the rate of the Russian ruble. “We will make sure that the rate is stable in order to support trade and economic cooperation in the EurAsEC, among other things,” Vladimir Putin said.

    Russia will remain committed to its obligations in international financial organisations and will support EurAsEC partners on a bilateral basis if necessary, he added.

    Vladimir Putin reminded the participants of the session that Russia signed an agreement to extend a $2bn loan to Belarus to support trade and economic balance. $1 billion has been already transferred to the Belarusian side. A $2bn loan to Kyrgyzstan is being negotiated.

    Belarus-NATO cooperation based on joint counteraction of modern security challenges

    From: BelTA
    Cooperation of Belarus and NATO is based on joint efforts aimed at counteracting modern security challenges, said Vladimir Gerasimovich, head of the International Security and Arms Control Office of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, at the conference “Modern approaches to international security: NATO partnership” at the Embassy of Lithuania in Minsk on December 11.

    In his words, the conference demonstrates one more time that international security and stability are getting more and more important.

    Belarus has made its adequate contribution to the process. The country is a party to all the multilateral treaties and agreements, which regulate disarmament and arms control. Belarus voluntarily refused to keep nuclear weapons and removed them from its territory in late 1996, said the representative of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    Vladimir Gerasimovich underscored, Belarus supports efforts of the international community channelled into preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, prevention of its acquisition by terrorist organisations. He remarked that Belarus pursues a responsible policy regarding the control over conventional weapons and meets all of its commitments within the framework of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

    The world is in transition into a new era of international relations, namely political, economic and military ones. New challenges of the international community emerge. In order to effectively counteract them, efforts of all countries need to be coordinated. It is especially important for ensuring stability and security in Europe. “The fact that Belarus borders on three countries of the Alliance obliges us to act wisely and responsibly. We cannot let the time of confrontation between the blocs return,” stated Vladimir Gerasimovich.

    In his words, gradual development of the dialogue and build up of the political cooperation on a mutually equal and beneficial basis for the sake of ensuring the international security is the key goal in the promotion of Belarus-NATO relations.

    “We are convinced that joint counteraction of modern challenges and threats is an objective foundation for pragmatic cooperation. I would also like to stress that Belarus’ views regarding the adjacency of NATO are based on beliefs of setting up a united non-divisible European security system,” concluded the representative of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    NATO would like to start new political dialogue with Belarus

    NATO would like to start a new political dialogue with Belarus, Robert Simmons, the NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Security Cooperation and Partnership, said at a conference “Modern Challenges to the International Security: Nato Partnership” in Minsk on December 11.

    “My visit, which is the first visit of a Nato high-ranking official to Belarus, shows that the alliance would like to start a new political dialogue with Belarus. We sincerely hope that we will be able to bring our relations onto a new qualitative level,” he said.

    According to Robert Simmons, the Defence Ministry of Belarus has outlined a list of 190 events, in which it is going to take part in 2009. These are various courses in Nato military schools, conferences. This allows exchanging the ideas, which is very important. For the first time the military of all countries of Europe keep in direct contact and exchange opinion, which is an invaluable contribution to the strengthening of stability,” Robert Simmons said.

    According to Robert Simmons, in the cooperation with Belarus Nato pursues such important technical goals as achieving the interoperability so that the Belarusian units could take part in Nato peacekeeping and other operations.

    The cooperation between Belarus and Nato is not purely military, Robert Simmons said. An important area is the creation of Nato trust or special-purpose funds. One of such funds has been created in Belarus to tackle the problem of landmines. Another area of non-military cooperation is joint civil emergency planning to deal with various natural calamities or man-made disasters.

    Belarus, Iran to step up trade and economic cooperation through joint projects

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Iran are intent on enhancing the trade and economic cooperation through vigorous implementation of joint projects, said Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov as he met with Foreign Minister of Iran Manouchehr Mottaki.

    “Iran is an important and prioritised partner of Belarus on the global scale,” said Sergei Martynov. “At present we are working together to add a serious economic dimension to this cooperation”. The head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry noted, at present the Belarusian-Iranian trade is rapidly growing. In particular, after last year’s visit of the President of Belarus to Iran the mutual trade has doubled. In 2008 the figure increased by 50%. “Yet my Iranian counterpart and I believe that the mutual trade turnover figure is insufficient,” said Sergei Martynov. He underscored, discussions about the bilateral cooperation will continue during meetings and negotiations of the Iranian Foreign Minister in Minsk on December 12.

    In turn, Manouchehr Mottaki remarked that Belarusian-Iranian relations are developed taking into account interests of the two countries and mutual understanding between the two peoples. He underscored that Belarus and Iran are taking concrete steps in the area of trade, power engineering and investments. He underscored, the two countries support each other in international organisations.

    Manouchehr Mottaki: Belarus, Iran share views on key global issues

    Belarus and Iran have wonderful political relations and common views on crucial global issues, said Foreign Minister of Iran Manouchehr Mottaki as he met with Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov on December 11.

    “We believe that multilateral negotiations should be started in the Caucasus,” Manouchehr Mottaki said.

    He underlined that during the meeting with Sergei Martynov the parties discussed the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. “We are concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip. We are interested in lifting the Gaza Strip blockade so that it could receive humanitarian aid,” the Foreign Minister of Iran said.

    Sergei Martynov, in turn, underlined that “this position on the Middle East is shared by the majority of the members of the Non-Aligned Movement, the UN, and the essence of this position is to support the right of the Palestinian people to establish their sovereign and independent Palestinian State based on their right to self-determination in line with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

    Belarus, Korea scientists to develop medical microrobots

    From: BelTA
    Scientists from the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), Metolit technology park and Seoul National University (Korea) are to implement a joint project to develop medical microrobots, BelTA learnt from Metolit Director General Yuri Alexeyev. The relevant agreement was reached during the Days of Belarusian Science in Korea.

    The main distinguishing feature of new medical microrobots will be their ability to move along tubular canals of small diameters. The innovation can be used for moving surgical and diagnostic instruments inside tubular organs during surgeries and to deliver medicine to organs.

    “In the future, the novelty can be used not only in medicine, but in other areas, too,” Yuri Alexeyev said. For example, a microrobot equipped with a camera will be able to get an image even from places that are most difficult to access.

    The cooperation terms will be defined during the visit of the specialists of Seoul National University to Minsk in 2009.

    BNTU and Metolit technology park intend to expand their cooperation with Korean scientists in the area of metallurgy, nano- and biotechnologies, medicine. They plan to implement projects on the use of ultrasound in intravascular surgery, to develop new methods of testing materials for their wear-resistance, etc. The Belarusian-Korean cooperation will be expanded to take in technology transfer. Korean specialists are ready to help promote Belarusian innovation on the Korean market, establish new scientific contacts between the two countries.

    Industrial park Metolit of the Belarusian National Technical University was founded in 1992. The industrial cluster develops, assimilates and batch produces new technologies, materials and equipment.

  • Economics...

    Belarus hopes Russian gas ceiling price in 2009 to be $160

    From: BelTA
    Belarus hopes that the price for Russian gas for Belarus in 2009 will not exceed $160 per 1,000 cubic metres, Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Vladimir Adashkevich told reporters on December 11.

    “We believe that the price for Russian gas for Belarus should not exceed $160 per 1,000 cubic metres. But we also assume that, considering today’s trends, it can be $140 per 1,000 cubic metres,” Vladimir Adashkevich said.

    These figures have been thoroughly calculated. At the same time, much will depend on how the economic situation will develop, Vladimir Adashkevich said. The Deputy Minister underlined that as gas prices are creeping up, the cost of energy sources will raise, too. Therefore, the inflation rate for 2009 is projected at 9-11%.

    The Deputy Minister added that the gas price for Belarus is currently being negotiated. The price is to be set by December 25, Vladimir Adashkevich said. He did not specify, however, which price was suggested by the Russian side. Earlier, the Russians intended to establish the price at $200, he said.

    Belarus’ 2008 budget revised

    Belarus’ budget indices 2008 have been revised upward in line with Decree No 684 signed by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on December 11, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The revenues have been revised up by Br8.24 trillion and expenditures – by Br6.15 trillion as against the parameters defined in the law “On the budget of the Republic of Belarus for 2008”. The deficit is expected to be cut by Br2.09 trillion. Before the end of 2008 the fiscal revenues can reach Br46.39 trillion, the budget expenditures will total nearly Br46.74 trillion, the deficit will make up Br344.7 billion.

    Large state capital investments and preferential dwelling construction loans will be financed from the budget in big volumes.

    The document envisages an increase in the national budget assignments to the oblast and Minsk budgets, expenditures of several state special-purpose budgetary funds and the Social Security Foundation (mainly for paying out pensions and allowances).

    As the national budget have been revised, the State Investment Programme 2008 and other socio-economic projects have been adjusted to.

    Belarus’ capital investments 21.9% up in January-November

    In January-November 2008, capital and construction investments in Belarus went up by 21.9% over the same period of 2007 to exceed Br30.44 trillion, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee of Belarus.

    Over the eleven months, building and assembly jobs totaled over Br13.3 trillion, 21.5% up from January-November 2007 in comparable prices.

    In January-November 2008, dwelling construction by means of all financial resources neared 4.32 million square metres, 10.3% up from the eleven months of 2007. Dwelling construction in the rural area and small towns made up nearly 1.776 million square metres, of them about 1.329 million square metres in the rural area (98.3% to January-November 2007).

    Belarus’ industrial output hits Br118.9 trillion in January-November

    Over the eleven months of 2008 the industrial output in Belarus reached Br118.9 trillion or 12.7% up from the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee. The industrial output surplus is projected to be 8-9% in 2008.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, over the eleven months of 2008, the country produced consumer goods Br22.801 trillion worth which is 12.4% up from the same period of 2007 (the annual projection 9-10%). In January-November, the food products output hit Br11.442 trillion or 13.2% up from the same period of 2007 (the annual projection 8-9%). The non-foods production was Br9.927 trillion worth (12.4% up, the annual projection 10-11%). The production of alcoholic beverages was Br1.432 trillion worth or 9.5% up from the same period of 2007.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, in the period under review, the energy intensity of the gross domestic product fell 7.9% being projected at 7-8%. In January-November 2008, the level of profitability of the industrial products was 17.3% with the annual projection at 12-13%.

  • From the International Press...

    Iran to launch car assembly line in Belarus

    From: Xinhua
    Tehran has signed an agreement with Minsk to launch an assembly line of the Iran-made Samand car in Belarus, the official IRNA news agency reported here Saturday.

    Under the agreement, signed by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the Belorussian side during his just-ended visit to Minsk, a joint Irano-Belarussian Unison Company will be formed to implement the contract of 36 million U.S. dollars to produce the Samand car in Belarus, IRNA said.

    Alexei Vaganov, a senior official of the Unison Company, was quoted as saying that the car assembly line is expected to be fulfilled in 18 months.

    "By 2010, the plant's annual production capacity would reach 120,000 vehicles, enabling Iran to export the cars to Central Asian countries and possibly to the European Union," Vaganov said.

    Mottaki arrived in Minsk on Thursday for a two-day visit.

    During the tour, the Iranian foreign minister held talks with Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko and other high-ranking officials on ways to broaden effective bilateral ties of cooperation to escape negative effects of the ongoing global financial crisis.

    US: Iran buying Russian arms via Belarus

    From: Press TV
    US officials believe Russia is selling Iran the SA-20 strategic-range air defense system
    US government officials say Moscow is selling Tehran the sophisticated SA-20 strategic-range air defense system through Belarus.

    In a recent article published by the Aviation Week, US officials speaking on conditions of anonymity claimed that Moscow is using Belarus as a route for selling the highly advanced air defense systems to Iran so that it can deny "direct involvement" in the affairs.

    "The Iranians are on contract for the SA-20," one of the US officials was quoted as saying. "We've got a huge set of challenges in the future that we've never had [before]. We've been lulled into a false sense of security because our operations over the last 20 years involved complete air dominance and we've been free to operate in all domains."

    The unnamed official added that the deployment of the SA-20 around Iranian nuclear facilities would be a direct threat to Israel's fleet of advanced, but non-stealthy, F-15Is and F-16Is.

    He, however, said that Israel still has time for a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic as it would take Iranian armed forces more than 24 months to become proficient in the operation of SA-20s.

    Moscow delivered some 29 Russian-made Tor-M1 air defense missile systems under a $700 million contract clinched in late 2005 and has so far trained Iranian Tor-M1 specialists, including radar operators and crew commanders.

    Western countries have criticized Russia's sales of defensive military equipment to Iran, saying that it has sabotaged efforts to curb Iran's uranium enrichment.

    Russian officials, however, say the contract is completely in line with international law as it involves "defensive hardware, which cannot be used for offensive purposes".

    Two Belarus athletes stripped of Beijing Olympic medals for doping

    From: Canadian Press
    Two Belarusian hammer throwers have been stripped of silver and bronze medals they won at the Beijing Olympics for doping.

    Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone after finishing second and third in the Aug. 17 hammer final at the Bird's Nest stadium.

    The silver now goes to Krisztian Pars of Hungary and the bronze to Koji Murofushi of Japan. Slovenia's Primoz Kozmus won the gold medal.

    Devyatovskiy faces a lifetime ban from the sport because this is his second doping offense while it was the first violation for Tsikhan, a three-time world champion and silver medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

    The Belarusians denied drug use and appeared at a hearing before the International Olympic Committee's disciplinary commission in Lausanne in September.

    The IOC also disqualified Polish canoeist Adam Seroczynski, who tested positive for the steroid clenbuterol in Beijing after finishing fourth in the K2 event.

    The three cases bring to nine the number of athletes caught for doping in Beijing, six of whom were disqualified during the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

    Belarus says currency to drop no further

    From: Guadian
    The Belarussian rouble sank to its floor level of 2,200 to the dollar on Friday, prompting notice from the central bank that it would allow the currency to drop no further.
    In accordance with central bank directives, the Belarusssian rouble's official rate is set on the basis of trades the previous day. The bank set Friday's rate at 2,198 to the dollar.

    "The official rate of the Belarussian rouble will not exceed 2,200 to the dollar," the central bank said in a statement statement said.
    "The central bank has reached the (floor) level of the corridor of the rouble's rate to the dollar. This was caused primarily by the significant strengthening of the dollar on world markets in August."

    The Belarussian rouble, pegged to the dollar only since the start of the year, stood at 2,149 to the U.S. currency in January and strengthened over the course of several months, hitting a peak this September at 2,111.
    But from October it began sliding in the face of increased demand for dollars on the domestic market.

    The central bank's reserves shrank in November to $4.5 billion from $4.8 billion despite receiving a $1 billion credit from Russia the same month.

  • From the Opposition...

    Baran: total dactylography is going on

    From: Viasna
    Unknown persons in civvies continue taking workers’ fingerprints at state enterprises of Orsha district. The administration of the enterprises assists them in it. If somebody asks about the legal grounds for such actions, they are shown Xerox copies of an excerpt from the law where the words ‘liable for military service’ are underlined. Those who refuse to give their fingerprints are threatened with having troubles with their bosses. In particular, such cases have been registered today at the unitary enterprise Lios in the town of Baran.

    Lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich comments: ‘Pitifully enough, this unlawful procedure has become mass-scale already. The organizations and persons who are dealing with total forcing to dactilography violate the present legislation of the Republic of Belarus. In particular, according to law On state dactylographic registration only certain categories of citizens can be drawn to this procedure against their will. Among them there are duty officials, people who mainly work in law-enforcement agencies, military servants, suspects and accused in criminal cases and those who are punished with administrative arrest.

    The explanations on the basis of which the fingerprints are taken do not correspond to the official explanation of the law and even have the traits of falsifications during the use of copies of documents. It’s a pity that under the pretext of struggle against terrorism the enforcement of total control takes place in the country, which doubtlessly violates the legal rights and interests of citizens, whereas the prosecutor’s office pays no attention to it and drifts.’

    Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs: “We will insist on taking strong stand towards Belarusian authorities”

    From: Charter '97
    The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs states that sanctions of the European Union against the Belarusian regime can be renewed.

    On December 10 the Right Now youth festival of human rights took place in The Hague. A daughter of the businessman a public leader Anatol Krasouski who had been forcibly abducted and disappeared in Belarus, Valeryja, was invited to take part in the festival.

    The Right Now! Festival in The Hague was dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration adoption. The festival was organised by 30 human rights organisations from the Netherlands, and the number of participants was more than thousand.

    Valeryja Krasouskaya and a human rights activist from Zimbabwe Promicu Mkwananzi were to present the honorary guest of the festival, Maxime Verhagen, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights Book. Using this opportunity, Valeryja Krasouskaya asked Maxime Verhagen a question which interested not only personally her, but many Belarusians, for two months:

    - Belarus is notorious as “the last dictatorship of Europe”. Numerous human rights violations are taking place in our country, including forcible abductions. In 2006 when right after the presidential elections more than 1,000 people were flung in prison, the European Union imposed certain sanctions against a number of Belarusian officials, responsible for human rights violations. In October 2008 these sanctions were suspended for 6 months, despite of the fact that there wasn’t even formal improvement of the human rights situation in Belarus. Now the person, who calls himself the president of Belarus, is greeted in Europe despite of the fact that he is allegedly responsible for orchestrating at least 4 assassinations. Why the Netherlands that previously openly expressed their concern about the situation with human rights in Belarus, have supported the proposal to suspend sanctions, and what would be the actions by the Netherlands after these 6 months?

    Firstly, I would like to express my admiration by the fact that you do not give up and continue struggle for finding out the truth about your father’s fate, -- the Minister said. – I would like to assure you that the Netherlands are closely watching the situation with human rights in Belarus. During the voting in the EU in October this year my colleagues from other EU countries persuaded me that suspending sanctions could positively influence the situation in Belarus. It is also important that consultations with Belarusian human rights organisations had been carried out previously. They expressed an opinion that it is necessary to lift sanctions. For me it was a decisive argument to vote for sanctions’ lifting. However, I promise you that if there would be no progress in the situation with human rights in Belarus, the Netherlands would insist on taking a strong stand towards the Belarusian authorities. If over the 6 months nothing changes, sanctions would be renewed.

    After presenting the Human Rights Book to Maxime Verhagen, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Valeryja Krasouskaya took part in a number of events of the festival. Together with representatives of Aim for Human Rights organisation (The Netherlands) Krasouskaya led a workshop on the topic of forcible abductions and made opening remarks for a showing of the film “A Lesson of Belarusian” by Miroslaw Dembinski.

  • Around the region...

    How much helps should OPEC expect from Russia?

    From: Daily Star
    Standing anxiously before a seemingly inexorable collapse in crude prices, the increasingly worried members of the the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are looking for new allies outside their club. Pleas for help have gone out to fellow crude exporters Russia, Mexico and Norway but - just days ahead of this week's crunch OPEC board meeting - it is highly unlikely they will cooperate in a large-scale production cut, analysts say.

    As the world economic crisis hits industrial output and consumer spending around the globe, world oil prices have tumbled from July's all-time high of $147 a barrel to today's mid-forties rate. The rout has left OPEC countries that depend on oil for revenue facing a cash shortfall, and members have signaled that they intend to cut exports and force up prices at Wednesday's meeting in Oran, Algeria.

    But the cartel only accounts for 40 percent of world supply and, without a similar output cut from fellow large exporters, it may find its ability to influence the market limited.

    The group's best hope remains Russia, which has traditionally guarded the independence of its energy policy and output targets, but which last week signaled its readiness for closer coordination with OPEC.

    One of Moscow's deputy prime ministers, Igor Sechin, and Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko are expected in Algeria on Wednesday, and President Dmitry Medvedev has not ruled out one day joining OPEC.

    "I would like to say that we are ready to protect ourselves as this is our base income, oil and gas," Medvedev said Thursday. "Such protective measures can be linked to a reduction in oil production volumes, joining existing organizations of suppliers as well as participation in new organizations, if we can agree about this ahead of time."

    Although Russia has demonstrated a willingness to use its energy wealth as a political tool in its rivalry with the West, NATO-member Norway and US neighbor Mexico are much less likely to help OPEC, analysts say.

    Bill Farren-Price, director of energy analysts Medley Global Advisers, said: "I don't expect anything from non-OPEC producers," even Russia, despite its slide into recession and its many beefs with Washington.

    "They [Russia] already have problems with production, with the low oil price. They need all the oil revenue," he said, ruling out a production cut and noting that many Russian firms have contractual obligations with Western majors.

    Russia's cooperation with OPEC is likely to be limited to technical accords on investment contracts, he said, recalling that in 1998 and 1999, when oil prices fell to $10, Moscow broke a promise to cut production.

    The vice chairman of Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom said Friday that his country would have difficulty taking part in OPEC's production quota system. "The mechanism of OPEC couldn't be applicable straightforwardly," said Alexander Medvedev. "We are in contact with OPEC to exchange information," he added, saying this was "a good signal for the market because ... it [supports prices]."

    "If Russia announces a production cut, the market could play on it for one or two days," said Bill Ramsay of the French Institute for International Relations, but he added that if Moscow reneges on the promise "it will hit OPEC later."

    Nevertheless, David Kirsch, of consultancy PFC Energy, said any sign of Moscow cozying up to OPEC could worry markets enough to give prices a bump.

    "It's always helpful to have Russia saying it's going to cooperate with OPEC and that it won't be a priority for Moscow to bring oil investment up," he said, noting that this does not apply to other non-members.

    Mexico, he said, was guaranteed $80-90 a barrel under signed contracts with importers, while Norway's economy is not dependent solely on energy exports and therefore suffers less from low prices.

    Ruble Bound for Record Plunge Against Euro as Russia Devalues

    From: Bloomburg
    Russia’s ruble headed for its worst week since at least 2003 against the euro and dropped for the first day in three versus the dollar after the central bank eased its defense of the currency.

    The ruble, which is managed by policy makers to limit swings that disadvantage exporters, added 0.2 percent to 36.8816 per euro by 10:03 a.m. in Moscow, paring its decline this week to 2.9 percent, the biggest weekly drop since Bloomberg started collating data on it five years ago. Against the dollar, it lost 0.4 percent to 27.7995 today, and strengthened 1.3 percent in the week.

    Bank Rossii, the central bank, has reduced Russia’s reserves by more than a quarter since August as it sells foreign currency to arrest the ruble’s decline. It expanded the trading band it lets the ruble move within against a basket of dollars and euros five times since Nov. 11, spurring a 4.8 percent drop, as falling oil prices erode the nation’s $91.2 billion current- account surplus.

    The ruble slumped 0.8 percent versus the basket yesterday, after the bank widened the band by 30 kopeks. It was little changed at 31.8874 today, near to 31.90, the weakest end of the newly expanded band, after retreating 0.8 percent in the week. The basket is made up of about 55 percent dollars and the rest euros.

    Urals crude, Russia’s main export blend, gained 17 percent to $44.80 per barrel this week.

    Panic as Ukraine's currency plummets

    From: AFP
    The national currency of Ukraine, whose pro-West government wants to join the European Union, has almost halved in value in the last six months, prompting panic amongst its heavily indebted population.

    The sudden fall in the hryvnia has sent Ukrainians rushing to exchange booths to change local money for hard currency, in scenes that recalled the hyperinflation suffered by the country in the early 1990s.

    Not only do Ukrainian consumers have to pay back loans taken out in more prosperous times but many will also have to pay them back in dollars.

    The hryvnia (UAH) was on Friday trading at 7.49 UAH against the dollar compared with 5.05 UAH at the beginning of the year and 4.84 UAH in July.

    The National Bank of Ukraine has allowed the hryvnia to trade freely in line with the conditions of a 16.4-billion-dollar (12.8 billion euro) IMF loan aimed at helping the country through the financial crisis.

    The hyrvnia -- a currency introduced in 1996 and named after money used in ancient Kiev -- has endured the ignominy of suffering one of the worst devaluations, along with the Icelandic krona, in the global financial crisis.

    "I consider myself a cultivated gentleman. But at the moment I'm thinking of taking petrol and a lighter and setting the National Bank of Ukraine on fire," said Egor Sobolev, a journalist who owes 60,000 dollars for his flat.

    "We are paid in hryvnia and for the moment our family budget allows us to make monthly payments of 1,000 dollars, but if the hyrvnia falls to 10 or 15 to the dollar the Bank has a big chance of going up in flames!"

    As of December 1, Ukrainian consumers had notched up debts of 235.5 billion hryvnia (31 billion dollars) some 70 percent of which (176 billion hryvnia or 23 billion dollars) has been taken out in foreign currency.

    Dollars and euros were almost impossible to buy in banks and exchange offices in Ukraine in November as people flocked to trade their hyrvnia for stronger currencies.

    The growth in hryvnia-denominated bank deposits was replaced in October by an outflow amounting to 10 percent of investments.

    The panic reached a peak earlier this month when a newspaper reported that all dollar bank savings could be converted into hryvnias, a rumour vehemently denied by the authorities.

    "Savers can only feel that they have been duped and have reason to be scared of similar surprises in the future," said the Dzerkalo Tyjnia weekly.

    "Who is going to answer for for the devastation of entire layers of Ukrainian society?"

    President Viktor Yuschchenko oversaw the currency's introduction when he was working as head of the central bank in the 1990s.

    Ukraine has been among the countries hardest hit by financial turmoil as the plunging price of steel, the country's main export, has exacerbated a credit crunch and a sharp fall in stock prices.

    Underlining the country's difficulties, Ukrainian industrial production is in freefall, crashing 15.2 percent in November compared to the previous month and 28.6 percent compared to November 2007.

    Metals output in November was 23.5 percent lower than in October and a whopping 48.8 percent lower than the same figure for November 2007.

    Out of the three major economies of the former Soviet Union -- Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine -- Ukraine is to see the sharpest slowdown, analysts at UBS said in a bleak research note.

    "Ukraine will see the sharpest slowdown among the three countries despite support from the IMF. Its currency will have to devalue given that it has the worst net international asset position," the UBS analysts said.

    But they added that with the conditions of the IMF loan there is a "good chance" that Ukraine might finally start implementing the reforms that it had put off for 10 years.

  • Sport...

    Familiar tale as Romanov's Belarus club in wages row

    From: Scottsman
    FURTHER evidence of the financial troubles facing Vladimir Romanov's Ukio Bankas Investment Group has emanated from the unlikely source of Vycheslav Hleb.

    The Belarusian forward, currently playing for MTZ-Ripo in his homeland, has revealed that some staff at the club have not been paid for six months. Ripo, along with FBK Kaunas in Lithuania, receive the vast majority of their income from Romanov's companies.

    Such news will be worryingly familiar for followers and employees of Hearts. The Tynecastle outfit, who have Ubig as their parent company, have twice failed to pay players on time this season. High earners at the Gorgie club also recently had to defer weekly salary payments amid concerns over Ubig's cash flow. Such matters, it would seem, are impacting across Romanov's stable.

    "The financial crisis is a simply awful thing," said Hleb to Belarusian website "Some guys have families, children, and they are not given their pay.

    "What could be said about the medical personnel and people who are working for the team? They haven't seen money for half a year. It must be the influence of the financial crisis. But so, measures must be taken."

    Hleb, ironically, has frequently been linked with a move to Hearts. The 25-year-old, whose brother Alexander currently plays for Barcelona following a successful spell at Arsenal, trained in Edinburgh in 2006 but no permanent move was forthcoming.

    Alexander criticised Romanov earlier this year, saying: "I don't understand Mr Romanov. My brother plays for his team but he wants to leave and Romanov won't let him. He wants big money for him and I don't understand it."

    Such frustrations are apparently still prominent with Vycheslav, who has made it clear he wants a transfer from Ripo. "The greatest mistake is that I have returned to Belarus at all," he said, before aiming what could be interpreted as a veiled criticism at Romanov. "I tried to leave every year, but I didn't succeed. Something or somebody impeded me in that.

    "I talked to the leadership of the club, and we have come to a decision that they are not interested in my services any more. And I do not have a wish to stay either.

    "There are no concrete plans. I would like to join a team which is fighting for something and challenging.

    "It is a decided question that I'm leaving Belarus.

    "The main thing is for the leadership of MTZ-Ripo to think not only about their interests, but about interests of a player as well."

    The latest test of whether UBIG are willing, or able, to pay Hearts' players their weekly wage arrives today, when salaries for the past seven days are due to hit their bank accounts

    There was at least some good news for Ukio Bankas yesterday, though, after posting ?21.8 million profits in their latest results.

    For the first 11 months of 2008, the Lithuanian company's gains have improved by 21.3 per cent during the same trading period last year. In October, the bank enjoyed nine-month profits of ?20million, an increase of 36 per cent on 2007.

    Ukio Bankas is also celebrating being named Fastest Growing Company of the Year in an awards ceremony organised by the Lithuanian Business Employers' Confederation.

  • Cultural scene...

    “Вольныя песьні” перад Калядамі

    “Вольныя песьні”-live перад Калядамі

    17 сьнежня ў 18.00 у канфэрэнц-залі офісу БНФ у Менску
    (прашпэкт Машэрава, 8, ля плошчы Перамогі)

    адбудзецца прэзэнтацыя кружэлкі “Вольныя песьні”.

    У імпрэзе возьмуць удзел клясыкі бардаўскай песьні ды сучасныя зоркі рок-н-рола: Зьміцер Бартосік, Кастусь Герашчанка, Тацьцяна Беланогая, Лявон Тышкевіч, Юры Несьцярэнка, Андрэй Плясанаў.

    Уваход вольны.

    З нагоды блізкіх Калядаў усе слухачы атрымаюць дыск “Вольныя песьні” ў прэзэнт.

  • Endnote...

    Belarusian regime offers Gazprom to sell them gas at $140

    From: Charter '97
    In 2009 Belarus counts upon buying Russian gas at a price of no more than $160 per 1,000 cubic metres.

    It has been stated at a press-conference on December 11 in Minsk by the deputy Economy minister Uladzimir Adashkevich, BelaPAN informs.

    “Basing upon estimations of dependence of gas costs upon oil costs, and we offer this cost to the Russian side. We count upon $140 per 1,000 cubic metres,” U. Adashkevich noted.

    In 2008 gas cost increased twice. Since January 1 it was 119 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres, and since April 1 – 128 dollars.

    As said by the deputy minister, “we are to define the cost before December 25 this year”. The Russian side still “keeps silent”, U. Adashkevich said.

    The official noted that estimated indices of inflation are to depend on gas price, the official said.