News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

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

President: socio-economic development is evening out, Bulgaria, Surgery, Energy, Entrepeneurs, Guantanamo, Hleb, Ukraine, Russia and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #372

    Alexander Lukashenko: socio-economic development of Belarus’ regions is evening out

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The president at the meeting on entrepreneurship regulation issues
    The social and economic development of Belarusian regions is gradually evening out, said President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the opening ceremony for the ice arena in the town of Beryoza on December 23, BelTA has learnt.

    Alexander Lukashenko examined the ice arena and the swimming pool. He underlined that the construction of such objects proves that the plans to create the necessary conditions to do sports in the regions are becoming a reality. “Thus we fulfill the strategic objectives of our state to even out the social and economic development of regions and to improve the living conditions in small towns and in the countryside,” the President said.

    The Head of State reminded that the construction of such sports facilities is a constituent of the national comprehensive programme to develop regions, small and medium-sized towns. Alexander Lukashenko thinks it important that apart from changing the lifestyle of people, the construction of such facilities creates new jobs. After the opening of the ice arena 60 new employees will be hired. “It is the reason why we keep constructing such facilities in such a difficult time. We need them to promote healthy lifestyle and to address employment issues,” the Belarusian leader said.

    According to the President, it is symbolic that 2008 which was declared the Year of Health is concluded by the construction of a sports object. It is the fourth ice arena in the Brest oblast. In the next 2-3 years, another four objects are to be built. A school for ice hockey and wrestling will be opened at the ice arena in Beryoza. About 300 children will be able to attend it.

    Belarus President: gas price for Belarus will reduce 2.5-3 times in 2009

    The gas price for Belarus will fall 2.5-3 times in the course of 2009, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in the town of Bereza, the Brest oblast, on December 23.

    “The gas price for Belarus will be falling. From January 1 to December 31 2009 it will go down considerably – 2.5-3 times,” the Head of State said.

    Commenting on the recent talks between the presidents of Belarus and Russia in Moscow, Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the two sides agreed upon on the issues. According to him, Belarus is grateful for these agreements and will not leave a favour unanswered. “We came to an agreement although the debates were heated,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the negotiations were not easy. “The situation was not the worst for us, nevertheless, we did not play against the Russian Federation in this situation. There are no impediments from our side in addressing the issues Russia has set forth including in the military-political, diplomatic, social and economic areas. We accept all the proposals and are ready for negotiations,” the President said.

    Integration with Russia will not affect Belarus’ relations with West, Alexander Lukashenko says

    The further integration with Russia will not affect the improvement of the relations between Belarus and the West, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in the town of Bereza, the Brest oblast, on December 23.

    “The West understands, and I have repeated it several times, that we are not going to turn away from Russia. That is why they do not expect us to do so,” the Head of State stressed.

    “The Europeans know about our good relations with the Russian Federation. In the course of any negotiations we emphasize that we will not try to develop relations with the West by means of worsening them with Russia and vice versa,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “We are not going to play such games,” the Belarusian leader added.

    A close alliance with Russia is attributed to the objective economic factors. “The cooperation with Russia will not affect the tendency outlined in the improvement of the relations between Belarus and the West. We will continue improving our relations with Europe, I told Dmitry Medvedev about that,” the Belarusian Head of State said and added that the Russian Federation will benefit from that as well.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus’ businessmen should be socially responsible and help their motherland

    Belarusian businessmen should be socially responsible and help their motherland, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in the town of Bereza, the Brest oblast, on December 23.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, unfortunately, business in the post-Soviet plans is closely connected with an incredible speed of earning millions in a relatively short time what tells about huge labour of many members of the society contributed to these profits. “Therefore it is necessary to share, to share in a civilized way of course. If you have become a millionaire or a billionaire in some five or ten years (when it took centuries to become a millionaire in the West), then come and help the school you studied at, help the district you live in, help the companies of you country,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.

    “Am I asking for that for no particular reason? We do support those who are trying to be socially responsible,” the Head of State said. The Belarusian business differs from that in the post-Soviet countries in its readiness to participate in social projects. “Business in Belarus is more socially oriented,” the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko added that the Belarusian state will hail the business activity focusing on so-called unpromising villages in order to build, for example, estates there to develop tourism.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Bulgaria trade to exceed $80mln in 2008

    From: BelTA
    The trade between Belarus and Bulgaria will exceed $80 million in 2008, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Bulgaria to Belarus Petko Ganchev told a press conference in Minsk on December 23, BelTA informs.

    Petko Ganchev noted that for the recent years, the trade and economic relations of the two countries have been actively developing. If in 2001, the trade between Belarus and Bulgaria made up $9 million, in 2007 – it hit $6 million.

    At the same time, the diplomat noted that the sides did not reach the level of the trade and economic cooperation which was in 80s of the 20th century. Then, the trade between Belarus and Bulgaria made up around $600 million a year. At the same time, the two countries have a great potential to develop their economic cooperation, the diplomat highlighted.

    “At present one of the most promising avenues of the cooperation is not only the exchange of investments and goods but the setting up the joint productions as well,” Petko Ganchev said. We have to set up the joint ventures both in Belarus and Bulgaria. The most promising avenues of the cooperation are food industry, winemaking, machine-construction and others, the Ambassador noted.

    According to him, in 2008 Bulgaria celebrated the 130th anniversary of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman domination and the 100th anniversary of proclamation of Bulgaria’s independence. The Belarusian mass media took an active part in covering those events.

    Global financial crisis will not affect Belarus-Bulgaria cooperation

    The global financial crisis will not affect the development of the cooperation between Belarus and Bulgaria, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Bulgaria to Belarus Petko Ganchev told a press conference in Minsk on December 23, BelTA has learnt.

    He noted that the global financial crisis has hit most badly those countries that were most integrated into the global financial system. “Fortunately, at present neither Belarus nor Bulgaria are so much integrated into the global financial system. The banking systems of our countries work very carefully and rationally,” the Ambassador said. According to him, the economies of Belarus and Bulgaria do not compete with each other, they are complimentary. “Owing to certain geographical and climatic peculiarities, our countries have developed different branches of industry and agriculture,” Petko Ganchev said.

    According to him, agricultural enterprises of Belarus could set up their offices and productions in Bulgaria which could help them enter the European market. Bulgarian fruits and vegetables that were in such a great demand during the Soviet times could again be present on the Belarusian market. Therefore, joint ventures should be set up in Bulgaria to supply these products to Belarus.

    Joint replacement surgery to be performed in all major Belarus’ towns in 2009

    From: BelTA
    Hip and knee replacement surgeries will become available in all major Belarusian towns, including oblast centres, in 2009, BelTA learnt from Alexander Beletsky, Director of the National Research Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedy.

    Apart from Minsk, such surgeries are already performed in Brest, Mogilev and Bobruisk. In 2008, about 3,000 joint replacement surgeries were carried out, of them 350 were knee replacement surgeries, the rest were hip replacement surgeries. The Director of the research institute added that the plans for 2009 are even more ambitious: the number of surgeries is to reach 4,000 per year.

    Alexander Beletsky noted that the waiting list for this kind of medical treatment is decreasing. Patients used to wait for the surgery for 6-7 years, now it takes no longer than 2 years to have a hip surgery and 1.5 years to have a knee surgery. In the near future, such surgeries will become more common and there will be no waiting lists. “Patients should not wait for joint replacement surgeries for years, especially able-bodied people,” Alexander Beletsky said.

    He stressed that it is crucial that people suffering from joint diseases should get a timely nonoperative treatment. “One should not let the disease develop to the point when surgery is the only option,” he noted. The National Research Institute of Traumatology and Orthopedy is developing new methods of nonoperative and operative treatment.

    Belarus’ scientists researching nonoperative kidney cancer treatment

    The scientists of N. N. Alexandrov National Research Institute of Oncology and Medical Radiology have started to study the method of radiofrequency thermoablation as an alternative to surgery for treatment of kidney cancer, BelTA learnt from deputy director for scientific work of the Institute Sergei Krasny.

    According to him, the research will take three years; the first five patients with minor malignant kidney tumors have already undergone treatment. No recurrence developed after the patients received the RF thermoablation. All in all, 20-30 patients will be involved in the experiment to test the efficiency of the new method. If the study shows positive results, the new method will be recommended as a routine treatment. “It will be used in those cases when surgical interference has contraindications or patients refuse to undergo a surgery,” Sergei Krasny said.

    Radiofrequency thermoablation has been practiced in the National Research Institute of Oncology and Medical Radiology for about six years already; first it had been used to treat liver and lung cancer. The study spanned five years and gave positive results which prompted a new experiment with another kind of cancer. More than 50 patients suffering from liver and lung cancer have received radiofrequency thermoablation treatment.

    Sergei Krasny explained the essence of RF thermoablation. A special needle is inserted into a tumor to transmit RF radiation. The high temperature destroys the tumor. Like any other methods, RF thermoablation has its indications and contraindications. The efficiency and the applicability of the method largely depend on the number, size and location of a tumour. In case of renal cancer, the tumour should be small – up to 3 centimeters.

    Belavia enters IOSA Registry

    From: BelTA
    The national air carrier Belavia was added to the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) Registry, BelTA learnt from Belavia.

    The work on the inclusion into the IOSA Registry spanned two years. Beginning 2007, the company management system was improved: quality management systems were introduced in all levels – from the technical maintenance of airplanes to the customer service on board the planes; the flight safety was enhanced; the qualifications of the air crew and flight attendants were upgraded.

    The benefits of getting IOSA certificate include a higher international status of an airline company, more cooperation opportunities with leading world air carriers, an easier access to new markets. IOSA certificate has been granted to 7 Russian companies and 214 companies worldwide.

    Belavia owns 12 airplanes. The national air carrier operates regular flights to 30 destinations in 19 countries worldwide.

    IATA (International Air Transport Association) was founded in Havana, Cuba, in April 1945. The modern IATA is the successor to the International Air Traffic Association founded in the Hague in 1919 - the year of the world's first international scheduled services. It is the prime vehicle for inter-airline cooperation in promoting safe, reliable, secure and economical air services - for the benefit of the world's consumers.

  • Economics...

    In 2008 over $700mn invested in Belarus’ energy system

    From: BelTA
    In 2008, over $700 million was invested in the development of Belarus’ energy system, Pavel Yakubovich, director general of the Belenergo state and production association, told a press conference in Minsk on December 24, BelTA has learnt.

    This year a 25MW gas turbine unit was installed at a CHP plant in Lida; the modernization of a unit at the Lukoml state district power plant was completed. The project to set up a new 230MW gas and steam unit at Minsk’s CHP plant 3 will be over this year. A boiler running on local fuels will be soon installed at a CHP plant in Zhodino; a gas powered electrical generator will be put into operation at a CHP plant in Zhlobin.

    The modernization projects which have been carried at Minsk CHP plants 2 and 5 jointly with the assistance from the Chinese side will be continued in 2009. An upgrade project will be launched at unit 5 of the Beryoza state district power plant.

    Pavel Yakubovich said that the Belarusian energy system ensures reliable electricity supply to consumers and is fully provided with necessary fuel resources.

    Beltransgaz hopes to sign additional agreement on 2009 gas price in December

    Beltransgaz hopes to sign an additional agreement on the gas price for 2009 by the end of December, first deputy general director of the company Tsvitomir Sorokhan told a press conference on December 24, BelTA has learnt.

    The approaches to the price formation for 2009 suit both sides. At present, the sides are making necessary calculations and preparing the additional agreement on gas supply for signing, Tsvitomir Sorokhan noted.

    According to him, the gas contract for 2007-2011 is successfully carried out. Annually the sides sign an additional agreement on the gas price, delivery volumes and transit rates. “The heads of both the states have arrived at the decision concerning the formation of the price for gas in 2009 and this decision suits both Gazprom and the Belarusian side,” Tsvitomir Sorokhan underscored.

    The first deputy general director of Beltransgaz noted that he cannot yet say what the price for gas will be. “The sides continue making calculations and negotiating,” he highlighted. The public will be informed about the gas price after the additional agreement is signed.

    Leasing company to be set up in Belarus

    A leasing company will be set up in Belarus, Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko said at a session of the Council of Ministers on December 23, BelTA informs.

    It is one of the anti-crisis measures that are to be implemented in H1 2009. A leasing company will help advance Belarusian goods to the foreign market.

    The Economy Minister informed the participants of the session on a planned reconsideration of the National Bank’s decision to cancel upfront payments. Besides, in 2009 the issue of discounting feedstock and materials should be implemented. It is especially important for the Belarusian Steel Works.

    On the whole, the anti-crisis measure programme is open for addenda, Nikolai Zaichenko said.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus lands gas discount from Moscow

    From: UPI
    Belarus secured a deal with Russian officials to receive natural gas in 2009 at a cost that is two to three times less than current prices, officials said.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, had convened earlier this week to discuss bilateral ties in the energy sector.

    Natural gas prices for Belarus rose from $119.53 to $127.9 per 1,000 cubic meters (35,314.6 cubic feet) in 2009 and a rise over $200 for 2009 was feared, but the bilateral deal was expected to be beneficial to both countries amid the faltering world economy, RIA Novosti said Wednesday.

    "Gas prices for Belarus will fall," said Lukashenko. "They will fall significantly -- by two or three times -- and will be acceptable to us on the whole."

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier that Moscow was backing a Bulgarian proposal to host an energy summit in April, adding plans for several natural resource arteries through the region were progressing "irrespective of the economic or political situation."

    British experts on EU matters expected to visit Minsk in 2009

    From: Navany
    The UK embassy plans to arrange a series of visits by prominent British experts on European Union matters to Belarus in 2009, Ambassador Nigel Gould-Davies said in an interview with BelaPAN.

    While in Minsk, the experts are expected to discuss “subjects common for all countries of Europe.” “I feel in Belarus a growing interest in the country’s European identity. I would like very much to support it,” the diplomat said.

    Mr. Gould-Davies described the outgoing year as successful for the British embassy. “It attracted increasing attention thanks to a number of events organized by us. Among those I would like to single out the first-ever Day of Wales in Belarus, the Beatles party, the art contest and exhibition for children, as well as the first junior football tournament named Be Friends that involved integrated teams featuring children with hearing problems,” he said.

    Mr. Gould-Davies noted that the year had been special for him as well. “I was appointed Great Britain’s ambassador in Minsk, which gave me an opportunity to meet with the president of Belarus and the Queen of Great Britain,” he said.

    The ambassador noted that the UK diplomatic mission would “continue developing relations with the Belarusian authorities and society” in 2009.

    Predicting that the coming year would be “much harder” for all countries, Mr. Gould-Davies emphasized the need to “manage challenges of the global crisis” and take measures that are “painful but necessary in the long term.”

    “I believe it is important to expand cooperation rather than get isolated from each other under these difficult conditions. Britain’s experience has already showed that unprecedented challenges require innovational and unusual approaches,” he stressed.

    Tax rules for small vendors importing from Russia to remain unchanged

    From: Navany
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka on December 24 issued a presidential edict leaving in place the current taxation rules for small vendors importing from Russia, said the Belarusian leader`s press office.

    However, the document tightens up penalties for failure by entrepreneurs to obtain a business license or pay a so-called single tax, as well as increases the maximum rate of the single tax.

    Unlike legal entities, sole entrepreneurs importing from Russia are currently required to pay the single tax and a fixed amount in valued-added tax on the shipments, being exempted from a customs duty.

    Under Mr. Lukashenka`s June 2005 edict, the rules were scheduled to change, with the vendors required to pay the full amount of VAT and an import duty starting January 1, 2009.

    Critics said that the higher taxes would ruin many businesses.

    The December 24 edict increases from 1.5 to two the multiplying ratio used to calculate the single tax paid by small vendors dealing in imports.

    The Belarusian leader`s press office said that the move to raise the maximum rate of the single tax was aimed at "flattening out the tax burden" on sole entrepreneurs and legal entities.
    The edict amends other rules governing sole entrepreneurs.

    It removes retail sellers of car components from business entities entitled to pay the single tax but places onto the list individuals who provide "accommodation for a short period of time" or buy used cars abroad to bring them into Belarus for sale.

    It outlines a list of activities for the conduct of which individuals will not be required to register as a sole entrepreneur. The list features farming activities, private lessons, the cleaning of homes and day care for children. Individuals engaged in them will be required to notify the authorities of their business and pay the single tax at "insignificant" rates, which the press office said would encourage people currently involved in such activities illegally to shift to legal practices.

    Brick-and-mortar stores having online stores will be required to pay an additional single tax on the online store.

    Earlier this month, small vendors staged a one-day strike and a street march in Minsk in protest against the scheduled changed in the taxation rules.

    Lukashenka won «political and economic victory» over small vendors, expert says

    In a related story, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has won a "political and economic victory" over small vendors, small business activist Syarhey Balykin said in an interview with BelaPAN.

    On December 24, the Belarusian leader issued a presidential edict leaving in place the current taxation rules for small vendors importing from Russia.

    Mr. Balykin said that the edict would alleviate "a mood of protest" among small vendors and welcomed the specified list of business activities the conduct of which does not require registration as a sole entrepreneur.

    Unlike legal entities, sole entrepreneurs importing from Russia are currently required to pay a so-called single tax and a fixed amount in valued-added tax on the shipments, being exempted from a customs duty.

    Under Mr. Lukashenka's June 2005 edict, the rules were scheduled to change, with the vendors required pay the full amount of VAT and an import duty starting January 1, 2009.

    Critics said that the higher taxes would ruin many businesses.

    Mr. Balykin said that the December 24 edict, however, contained "a few unpleasant surprises" for small vendors.

    Among them, he mentioned an increase in the maximum rate of the single tax, which allows the local authorities to apply the tax at a higher rate, and the requirement that a sole entrepreneur should pay 10 percent of revenues in addition to the tax into the local budget when the revenues exceed the tax 20 times. The expert described the latter requirement as a restriction on the revenues. "For many sole entrepreneurs, the amount of revenues totaling 20 times the single tax is quite insignificant and does not allow them to cover even rental payments. Sole entrepreneurs are forced by economic means to switch to general taxation rules," he said, expressing fear that the provision also would lead to increased control over vendors' revenues.

    Mr. Balykin also criticized tighter penalties for failure to pay the single tax, which now will be punished by the annulment of the sole entrepreneur license without the right to apply for the renewal of the registration.

    "In essence, the authorities repeated the 2006 scenario when they extended a few days ahead of New Year softer rules for sole entrepreneurs importing from Russia but introduced numerous restrictions, banning employing people other than relatives, among other things," he said.

    Mr. Balykin expressed doubt that the December 24 edict had been prompted by small vendors' protests. "It is more likely that it was lobbied for by the owners of markets and shopping centers who would have lost their tenants," he said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Market vendors to be removed from markets and forces to work in hypermarkets

    From: Charter '97
    At the consultations on entrepreneurship regulation issues a decision was adopted to maintain the existing taxation principle.

    The coefficient 1.5 used for foreign goods imported from Russia without customs clearance, is to be increased to 2.

    Besides, a decision to increase single tax has been reached.

    “It will concern only top rates, lower values to remain the same, Interfax informs.

    Entrepreneurs would be able to choose different ways of paying taxes as before: the common system of taxation majority of legal entities use, a simplified system or paying the single tax.

    Besides, it has been decided that entrepreneurs importing car components will not be allowed to pay the single tax but will be entitled to simplified taxation rules.

    It is a kind of extension of preferential administrative regime for payment to the budget. It is not a relief from the point of view of payments’ volume, but from the point if view of procedures. This relief will be accompanied but higher demands to having no “gray” schemes, no digressions from the existing law.

    There would be some changes in work of private unitary enterprises. A draft decree on amendments to the simplified taxation system, which would simplify it considerably and decreasing taxes has been prepared. Thus, private unitary enterprises which were individual entrepreneurs before, conditions would be not worse than those for individual entrepreneurs in 2009.

    As the same time, in the future to balance the structure of retail trade in the country conditions for expanding the network of hypermarkets are to be created, so that entrepreneurs were not reselling goods, but manufacturing them. It has been stated at the consultations that the state is interested in citizens’ being engaged in those business activities which are most beneficial for the economy.

    Lukashenka’s press-service has noted that at the moment this decision is optimal. The duration of the new system is not defined however. It is planned that a corresponding regulatory document would be completed and adopted in the next few days.

    On January 1, 2009 the article 3 of the Decree No. 285 of June 18, 2005 “On some measures for regulating entrepreneurial activities” is to cease to be effective. Goods from third countries released for free circulation in Russia and imported by Belarusian individual entrepreneurs are to be subject to customs clearance and payment of import VAT when imported to Belarus. Thus, entrepreneurs pay single tax with an increasing coefficient 1.5 to the tax rate and a fixed sum of the VAT now, which is calculates as a double sum of the single tax without a

    Since January 1, 2009 VAT and customs fees when importing goods from the Russian Federation were to be done according to the standard procedure, that is to include customs clearance and customs fees payment. Individual entrepreneurs’ discontent and protests were proivoced by that.

    Lukashenka: Businessmen are threat to our stability

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka finds the work of the government in regulating individual entrepreneurship activities in the country ineffective.

    “Today, blaming the global financial crisis the government suggests postponing adoption of amendments to the business activities terms. The global crisis, of course, should be taken into account. In this situation it is again obvious that neither businessmen nor the government are ready to settle the long-standing problem in a civilized way,” A. Lukashenka

    The Belarusian leader reminded that in 2001 customs clearance of goods manufactured in third countries and imported from Russia was cancelled, and single tax was introduced.

    “This gave the impetus to the development of entrepreneurship. Simplified taxation and customs clearance rules were instituted for some individual entrepreneurs, which created more advantageous conditions for some entrepreneurs comparing to other businessmen,” Lukashenka said.

    As said by him, “the course of events showed we needed to smooth out those trends.” The issue became especially urgent after Belarus and Russia changed the principle of levying VAT in bilateral trade. “Individual entrepreneurs and the government were unprepared for this,” the Belarusian leader stated.

    In this connection, Lukashenka noted, a number of documents was adopted. In line with then a simplified procedure of importing goods has been extended for some period of time, in order to let individual entrepreneurs develop muscles and get prepared for a higher level of business organisation. .

    “We have agreed to make concessions again, and that the deadline for introducing equal conditions will be January 1, 2009,” A. Lukashenka said.

    “In this connection, I have got a question to the government: why does the Council of Ministers bring up a brand new initiative and suggest postponing these amendments on the eve of the deadline?” the president stressed.

    A. Lukashenka reminded that over the last 3.5 years “almost nothing has been done to create optimal and equal working conditions for economic entities”.

    The major goal which was to create wholesale warehouses in every region for centralized imports of goods has not been accomplished. The system of customs clearance and other numerous procedures remain complicated and cost-ineffective, the president said.

    “Why the governors haven’t created these warehouses? Where are these schemes, warehouses? Why they haven’t been created, Syarhei [Sidorski]?” A. Lukashenka asked.

    The ruler has stated: “The government has left things to take their own course, thinking that everything would resolve itself. “Instead of working on a systematic basis, preventing negative social developments, the government is dragging behind again,” A. Lukashenka said.

    The leader of the state explained that the government offers “not to move anything” in relations with individual entrepreneurs, “leaving a hole on the border”.

    “Is there a guarantee that goods for billions of rubles won’t be imported to us under a disguise of individual entrepreneurs’ activities? Isn’t it a threat to the today’s stability?” A. Lukashenka said.

    In this connection he demanded the Council of Ministers and related structures of state administration “without social aggravation and political frenzy to carry out well-directed and well-balanced economic policy relating both individual entrepreneurs and other groups of the business world”.

    “We have to take concerted efforts, without dogmatism and narrow-departmental approach, to work out most optimal measures to solve the acute problems of today taking into consideration both modern-day challenges and the national interests of maintaining the economic and social stability,” Lukashenka stated.

  • Around the region...

    Russia’s Putin, Ukraine’s Timoshenko Discuss Energy

    From: Bloomburg
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko discussed energy supplies as Russia considers cutting off fuel shipments to the former Soviet state for the second time in three years.

    Putin and Timoshenko held a telephone call yesterday, the Russian government said on its Web site, without providing any details. OAO Gazprom, Russia’s gas-export monopoly, will have “no legal grounds” to deliver gas to Ukraine as of Jan. 1 if an agreement over Ukraine’s debt to Gazprom isn’t reached by then, Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller said Dec. 26.

    Moscow-based Gazprom supplies one-fourth of Europe’s gas, mainly through Ukraine’s pipeline system. The company refuses to sign a new delivery contract with Ukraine until it pays off a debt of $2.1 billion. Gazprom curtailed deliveries in January 2006 after a price dispute. That led to natural-gas shortfalls throughout Europe and called into question Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier.

    Ukraine may be able to avoid a shutoff of Russian natural gas by settling its debt to Gazprom through deductions from future transit fees that Ukraine charges Russia for transporting gas to Europe, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said on Ekho Moskvy radio yesterday. There is about a 50 percent chance that Gazprom will end supplies of gas to Ukraine on Jan. 1, which is the deadline for an agreement, Kupriyanov said.

    Relations Strained

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened Dec. 24 to sanction Ukraine if the debt isn’t paid “to the last ruble” by next week. Speaking in an interview broadcast on state- controlled television channels, he said relations with Ukraine have reached the lowest point over the past few years and the neighboring country “lacks efficient leadership.”

    Viktor Zubkov, Gazprom’s chairman and Putin’s deputy, said Dec. 22 that Ukraine should be held “fully responsible” for any possible disruption of Russian gas shipments to Europe.

    “Ukraine has given guarantees for stable transit and we are ready to reiterate them,” Oleksandr Shlapak, first deputy head of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s staff, said that day.

    Ukraine’s state-run energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy has about 17 billion cubic meters of gas in storage, while other companies have more than 11 billion cubic meters, Naftogaz Deputy Chief Executive Officer Volodymyr Trikolich said this month.

    Ruble Falls to Record Low Versus Euro as Russia Weakens Defense

    From: Bloomburg
    The ruble fell to a record low against the euro as Russia’s central bank extended six weeks of devaluations to compensate for falling oil prices.

    The ruble lost as much as 1.6 percent to 40.8931 per euro before trading at 40.8143 at 12:28 p.m. in New York, the weakest level since the European currency was introduced in 1999. It declined as much as 1.2 percent to 29.0577 against the dollar, a four-year low, capping a 19 percent drop since early August.

    Russia’s foreign reserves, the world’s third largest, have fallen by a quarter since August to $451 billion as the central bank sought to prop up the currency and export revenue declined. Standard & Poor’s cut Russia’s credit rating this month for the first time in nine years to BBB on concern Russia is wasting reserves defending the ruble.

    “The central bank tries to devalue the ruble as fast as it only can without attracting too much unwelcome attention of the speculators, many of whom are on vacation now,” said Evgeny Nadorshin, a senior economist at Trust Investment Bank in Moscow. “The less speculations, the more reserves the central bank keeps for itself in the short term.”

    The currency has weakened 15 percent against the dollar and 12 percent against the euro this year as oil, the nation’s biggest export earner, lost 62 percent and the global credit crisis prompted investors to pull out of emerging markets.

    Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS Index of stocks fell 0.7 percent, a third day of declines, to 651.50. The 30-stock ruble- denominated Micex Index, which lost 60 percent of its value since August, rose 0.3 percent.

    The RTS has dropped 72 percent this year, compared with a 56 percent decline in MSCI’s emerging-market index.

    Bank Rossii

    Bank Rossii allowed the ruble to fall more than 1 percent against its target basket of dollars and euros for the fourth time in a week and the 11th time since Nov. 11, according to a central bank official who declined to be identified. The currency lost 1.2 percent today against the basket, which is 55 percent dollars and 45 percent euros, to 34.3139.

    Russia’s economy will sink into a recession next year as the price of Urals crude oil, the country’s main export blend, tumbled from a record high in July, Barclays Capital says. Urals has fallen 77 percent since then to $32.34 a barrel, less than half the $70 Russia needs to balance its budget next year.

    The economy had been expanding an average 7 percent in the eight years to 2007 as surging oil prices helped the country recover from the government’s debt default and ruble devaluation in 1998.

    With oil at “very low levels,” Bank Rossii “prefers more safety in case it goes even lower,” according to Nadorshin.

    Crude oil for February delivery gained as much as $1.45, or 4.1 percent, to $36.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after declining by a third this month.

    Russia’s industrial production shrank the most last month since 1998, when the country defaulted on $40 billion of domestic debt and the ruble plunged more than 70 percent against the dollar.

    27 dead in Ukraine blast, more survivors unlikely

    From: AP
    Rescue workers were combing through piles of concrete and glass Friday in an ongoing search for survivors from an apartment building explosion in southern Ukraine, but authorities said hope was waning as the death toll climbed to 27.

    Salvage teams have pulled 21 people out alive from the rubble since the five-story building collapsed Wednesday night in the Crimean peninsula resort of Yevpatoriya.

    It was unclear if other victims could still be buried in the wreckage. Authorities said 62 people were registered as living in the destroyed apartments, but could not say how many were in the building at the time of the blast.

    Ukraine held a day of national mourning Friday, with flags across the country lowered to half-mast. Entertainment events were canceled.

    Rescuers were using a construction crane to remove larger concrete blocks from the site, and were falling silent intermittently to listen for any cries of help.

    Television footage showed rescuers on Thursday pulling out a man, awake and alert but with bruises on his face, as rescue colleagues applauded.

    But finding others alive after two nights of temperatures at minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) was increasingly unlikely, said spokesman Volodymyr Ivanov of the Crimean branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

    "There is very little hope," he said.

    The explosion caused the entire central section of the building to come down, exposing apartments on either side. As of Friday evening, 27 bodies had been recovered, including two children, officials said.

    Officials were considering several causes for the blast, including the explosion of oxygen canisters in the basement, Ivanov said. Neglect of safety precautions has led to frequent explosions in apartment buildings and public facilities in the ex-Soviet nations.

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were in Yevpatoriya on Thursday to inspect rescue efforts and talk to survivors. Tymoshenko said survivors would be given free housing before year's end.

    Yushchenko thanked Russia for offering to send naval personnel to help with the rescue, but said they were not needed.

    Russia's NTV television reported that the remnants of the building would soon be torn down due to safety concerns.

    "We renovated the whole place, we installed new windows, and to leave it all?" resident Ivan Velnus said, struggling to hold back tears.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Guantanamo prisoners to be sent to Poland?

    From: The News
    Poland would be willing to take prisoners from Guantanamo detention camp, after the new Obama administration coses it down.

    Some prisoners from Guantanamo are likely to be kept in European countries, including Poland.

    According to the head of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, Krzysztof Lisek of the ruling Civic Platform, there are no political obstacles to put such a plan into practice.

    “If our ally submitted a request like that, we wouldn’t refuse,” Lisek said. “But we do know the situation of the Polish penitentiary system, the cramped conditions in the jails and a notorious lack of places. So in practice this would be extremely hard,” he adds.

    Opposition MP and deputy head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Pawel Kowal is of a similar opinion: “We should act in accordance with the obligations we have towards our ally, but also in accordance with the law”.

    And it remains unclear whether keeping foreign prisoners in detention could be reconciled with the international conventions Poland observes.

    According to the Rzeczpospolita daily, the US administration has asked the previous government to accept a few prisoners from Guantanamo. Warsaw however, turned the offer down, as they believed this would put Polish soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq in danger.

    Spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Piotr Paszkowski said Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has not made a decision on the matter as yet.

    The liquidation of Guantanamo detention camp in Cuba was promised by the US president-elect Barack Obama in an attempt improve the image of the US around the world.

    Poland will take half a century to catch up with the West

    From: WBJ
    According to the latest data published by Eurostat, Poland will need 55 years to catch up with the standard of living in Germany.

    In 2008, a Pole could afford only 55 percent of what an average EU citizen could. This is the worst result in the EU, with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria. The study shows that in 1997 the standard of living in Poland amounted to 47 percent of the EU average, meaning that Poland is catching up only 1 percent a year.

    The data also reveals that one of the most significant factors hindering development is unemployment. The report states that only 57 percent of those aged up to 65 actually work.

  • Sport...

    Hleb Chosen Belarus' Player Of The Year

    Barcelona Football Club midfielder Alexander Hleb has been selected as Belarus Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive year.

    According to Belarus sports weekly Press Ball, the 27-year-old Hleb received his prize at the Belarusian Football Federation.

    The Belarus star left Arsenal to join Barcelona in summer 2008.

    The country's federation also named FC BATE Borisov boss Viktor Goncharenko as the Coach of the Year. FC BATE became the first club from Belarus to qualify for the lucrative group stages of the 2008 UEFA Champions League after gaining a 2-1 victory over PFC Levski Sofia on aggregate.

  • Cultural scene...

    Новогодняя акция для детского центра

    23 декабря состоялась уже традиционная новогодняя благотворительная акция для детского онкологического центра в Боровлянах.

    В течение двух предыдущих недель каждый желающий мог выбрать ребенка из списка, который находился на сайте и сделать ему новогодний подарок, передав его в центр через наших координаторов. Более 500 подарков, заботливо упакованных и подписанных руками добрых людей, нашли своих счастливых маленьких обладателей.

    Но какой же праздник для детей без клоунов и фокусов? Чтобы окончательно развеять больничную атмосферу и хотя бы немного скрасить серые будни, кроме подарков детишек ожидал самый настоящий праздничный концерт. В нем уже в который раз приняли участие фокусник Петр Стасевич, клоуны Кася и Рыжая, Анна Клэр и кукла Гарик от NETradio, а для родителей, которые живут со своими детьми в Боровлянах, подарком стало выступление певицы Ольги Плотниковой, Виталия Артиста («beZbileta») и Петра Елфимова. Тех же детей, которые по тем или иным причинам не смогли прийти на концерт, артисты вместе с настоящим Дедом Морозом поздравили прямо в палатах. Многие дети тщательно готовились к приезду Деда Мороза: встречали его стихами и взаимными подарками.

    Некоторые детишки, которые были упомянуты в списках, к счастью смогут встретить Новый год дома, в кругу родных и близких. Приготовленные для них подарки будут дожидаться своих хозяев в центре под тщательным присмотром педагогов и психологов отделений и обязательно попадут в руки тому, кому они предназначены.

    Благодаря большому запасу «неименных» подарков, координаторы акции смогли поздравить и тех 70 детей, которые только поступили в центр. Поэтому с полной уверенностью мы можем сказать, что без подарков действительно не остался ни один ребенок.

    Спасибо огромное всем тем, кто откликнулся на нашу просьбу и внес свою посильную лепту! Ведь маленьким обитателям центра, так же, как и их родителям, было очень приятно, что о них думают и заботятся.

  • Endnote...

    Human trafficking turns into a global scourge

    From: Meri News
    THE TRAFFICKING of human beings is the recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of people for the purpose of exploitation. It is estimated to be $9 billion a year industry. Exploitation includes forcing people into prostitution or sexual exploitation, forced labour or service, slavery. For children exploitation may include forced prostitution, illicit international adoption, trafficking for early marriage or recruitment as child soldiers, beggars or for sports.
    Human trafficking differs from people smuggling. In the latter case, people voluntarily request a smuggler’s service for fees and there may be no deception involved. On the other hand, the trafficking victim is enslaved or the terms of their debt bondage are fraudulent or highly exploitative. The trafficker takes away basic human rights of the victim. Victims are tricked and lured by false promises or physically forced. Traffickers use coercive tactics of deception, intimidation, feigned love, isolation, treat of physical force, debt bondage and even force-feeding with drugs to control their victims.

    Trafficking is a fairly lucrative industry. In countries of Russia, Eastern Europe, Hong Kong, Japan and Colombia, trafficking is controlled by large powerful organisations. The majority of trafficking is done by networking of smaller groups that each specialise in certain area like recruitment, transportation, retail or advertising. This is very profitable because little start-up capital is needed and prosecution is relatively rare.

    Trafficked people are usually the most vulnerable and powerless minorities of the region. They often come from the poorer areas where opportunities are limited; they are often displaced persons such as runaways or refugees. Trafficking of children often involves exploitation of parent’s poverty. The latter may sell children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or gain income. In West Africa trafficked children have often lost one or both parents to the African AIDS crisis. The adoption process, legal and illegal, results in cases of trafficking of babies and pregnant women between the West and developing nations.

    Women form 80 per cent of trafficking victims, particularly at risk to get involved in sex trafficking. Potential kidnappers exploit lack of opportunities, promise good jobs and then force the victims to become prostitutes and participate in pornography. The main motive of a woman to accept an offer from a trafficker is better financial prospects for herself or her family. Traffickers sometimes use offers of marriage as means of luring victims. Some women know that they will be working as prostitutes but they have an inaccurate view of the circumstances and the conditions of the work in their country of destination. Thousands of children from Asia, Africa and South America are sold to the global sex trade every year. Sometimes, they are sold by their own families. Men are also at risk of being trafficked for unskilled work predominantly involving hard labour.

    According to United States State Department data, an estimated 600,000 to 820,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Since the fall of Iron Curtain the impoverished former Eastern Bloc Albania, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have been identified as major trafficking source countries for women and children. Many of the Iraqi women fleeing the war zone are turning to prostitution, while others are trafficked abroad to Syria, Jordan, Qatar, UAE and Iran. Cheap Iraqi prostitutes are making Syria, a popular destination for sex tourists. Of the clients coming from wealthier countries in the Middle East many are Saudi men. High prices are offered for virgins. As many 200,000 Nepali girls many under 14 are sold into sex slavery in India. Nepalese women and girls, especially virgins, are favoured in India because of their light skin.

    Lack of employment chances, organised crime and presence of criminal gangs, regional imbalances, economic disparities, social discrimination, corruption in government, political instability, armed conflict, profitability, growing deprivation and insufficient penalties against traffickers are some of the causes of trafficking. Trafficking of people has been facilitated by porous borders and advanced communication technologies, it has become increasingly transnational in scope and highly lucrative. Unlike drugs or arms, people can be sold many times.

    Government, international associations and NGO’s have all tried to end human trafficking with various degrees of success. Actions taken to combat human trafficking vary from government to government. Some have introduced legislation specifically aimed at making human trafficking illegal. Other actions the governments could take are to raise awareness. This can take on three forms – first, raising awareness amongst potential victims, in countries where human traffickers are active. Second, to raise awareness amongst the police, social welfare workers and immigration officers. And in countries where prostitution is legal or semi-legal, raising awareness amongst the clients of prostitution, to look out for signs of a human trafficking victim.