Belarusian wages up, 2008; year of health, Union state, US Embassy, Lebedko banned from travel, Polish disgrace, blogs and Sport…
Belarusian salaries reach targeted levels in 2007
|President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visiting the 'SOS Children's Village' in Borovlyany (Minsk region), 30 December|
She remarked, in November 2007 monthly salaries averaged an equivalent of $342, with the last year’s target set at $340. The official underscored, salaries of agricultural workers swelled last year to reach the targeted equivalent of $200.
The Deputy Minister said, Belarusian salaries are supposed to make up an equivalent of $500 by the end of 2010.
Salaries are paid on time in Belarus, with arrears virtually non-existent. The number of violations connected with untimely payments of salaries shrank by 25% in comparison with 2006. Besides, the government controls the fulfilment of state guarantees concerning the size of salaries, which are supposed to be above the established minimum.
Belarus’ annual leave to total not less than 24 days
On December 30 Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko signed Decree #10 “On Introducing Amendments to Decree #29 of July 26, 1999 of the President of the Republic of Belarus”, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.
In line with the amendments, the contract between the employer and employee envisages that the annual leave cannot be less than 24 days in case of its reduction by the employer taking into account the amount of days of absence or deliberate avoidance of performing labor activity of more than three hours of the working day without good reason.
The decree comes into force on January 26, 2008.
Year of 2008 declared Year of Health in Belarus
The document aims to create the conditions for further popularization of healthy lifestyle, develop healthcare, physical education and sports, ensure the environmental safety and preserve moral values, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.
Belarus capital to get spacious sports facility Minsk-Arena in one year
A spacious sports and community facility Minsk-Arena will be built in the capital of Belarus in one year, head of state Alexander Lukashenko said as he opened the 4th Christmas International Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the Prizes of the President of the Republic of Belarus.
He remarked, not all hockey teams had managed to arrive to partake in the tournament. Seven teams have arrived in Belarus — from Austria, Germany, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Finland and Switzerland.
Alexander Lukashenko asked organisers of the tournament to take into account and invite all those willing to participate next year. The head of state compared the Christmas Tournament in Minsk with the unofficial world amateur ice hockey tournament and suggested holding the tournament in 2009 using the world ice hockey championship formula.
2008 to see two sessions of Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus-Russia Union State
The second session is scheduled for November 2008.
A whole range of actions will be organised by the Parliamentary Assembly during the year. Apart from regular sessions the Assembly will hold the festival “The Youth – for the Union State”, the scientific-research conference “Complex Information Protection”, the information-propagandistic action “The Youth of the Union State – the Road to the Future of the Union State”, the international scientific-practical conference “Urgent Problems of the Construction and Development of the Union State”, the roundtable sitting “The Role of Small and Medium-Scale Entrepreneurship in the Development of the Union State”.
The permanent seminar under the Parliamentary Assembly will discuss the following themes: “Efficiency of the Budgeting Mechanism of the Union State”, “Problems of Managing the Property in the Union State” and “Ways of Improving the System of Ensuring Security and Combating Crime in the Union State”.
Moreover, during the year the Union State parliamentarians will observe the presidential elections in Russia and Armenia and the elections of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus.
Union State Constitutional Act can be adopted by end of 2008,
The Constitutional Act of the Union State can be adopted by the end of 2008, Nikolai Cherginets, the Chairman of the International Affairs and National Security Commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, told a press conference in Minsk on January 3, 2008.
Nikolai Cherginets noted that the draft document is ready for consideration. Yet several items of the document that fall within the competence of the Presidents of Belarus and Russia remain unsettled. First of all, this is the issue of the Union State leadership. The document provides for three variants: to introduce the posts of president and vice-president, preserve the Supreme State Council as the main governing body and to set up a new structure. Another moot point is the single bank of issue. “These issues are not so difficult. I think this year we will be able to settle the issue of the Union State Constitutional Act,” Nikolai Cherginets said.
The parliamentarians of the two countries urge the prompt adoption of the Constitutional Act. A significant growth of the Union State budget testifies to the development of the Union State. It has grown 10 times over the last decade. “This is a real testimony to the aspiration of the two countries to develop the union relations,” Nikolai Cherginets underlined.
US ambassador interferes in Belarus’ internal affairs, senator says
|US Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart|
In his opinion, at present the USA is in “the advance guard of the totally invalid onslaught on Belarus”. America treats Belarus like it does undeveloped countries, where people suffer, hunger and are humiliated. “This attitude won’t do,” said Nikolai Cherginets.
The senator reminded, like the United States of America Belarus is a co-founder of the United Nations Organisation. It allows expecting a respectful or at least neutral attitude of other countries to the republic. Besides, many years ago Belarus removed weapons of mass destruction from its territory. “Then the USA declared they would ensure Belarus’ work in the international community and will do its best to prevent anyone from using any sanctions against our country ever, including economic sanctions. But they discarded the promises. They constantly pour threats to us,” added Nikolai Cherginets.
Yet the senator believes, things would not go as far as recalling the present US ambassador to Belarus. “Everything will depend on the USA. We are dedicated to cooperation with them and hope that sound sense will eventually prevail,” added Nikolai Cherginets.
Belarus hopes relations with USA will improve after presidential elections in that country
Belarus expects improvements in the relations with the USA after the US presidential elections which will take place this year, Nikolai Cherginets, the chairman of the permanent commission for international affairs and national security of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, told a press conference in Minsk on January 3.
The senator said that Belarusian-American relations have not been constructive enough. According to Nikolai Cherginets, Belarus is always ready for mutually beneficial cooperation with the USA. Offering friendship, Belarus does not set any preconditions. “We are ready for cooperation in all issues of international activity so that the world could become a more peaceful place,” he said.
Main goal of monetary policy in 2008 is ensuring stability of Belarusian ruble
The most effective tool of maintaining the stability of the Belarusian ruble is maintaining the stable exchange rate against the US dollar as the US currency accounts for a big share on the domestic foreign currency market, in the structure of household savings and in foreign trade settlements.
In 2008, the National Bank will restrict the fluctuations of the official rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar within 2.5% over the exchange rate at the beginning of 2008.
Fixing the parameters of the fluctuations of the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar in 2008 will help reduce inflation and devaluation expectations, which in a great degree impact the behaviour of economic agents. It will help stabilise the prices and exchange rate. A reminder, taking into account the socio-economic environment and trends on foreign markets in 2008 inflation in Belarus is projected within 6-8%.
President approves guidelines of monetary policy of Republic of Belarus for 2008
On December 30, by his decree No 687 President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko approved the guidelines of the monetary policy of the Republic of Belarus for 2008, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.
The guidelines of Belarus’ monetary policy, as well as in the previous years, say that the main goal of the monetary policy is to protect and ensure stability of the Belarusian ruble, its purchasing capacity and rate as against the foreign currencies.
The official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against US dollar is projected to make plus/minus 2.5%; the refinancing rate will not exceed 7-9% per annum; the rate for newly granted loans – 10-12%; for fixed deposits – 7-10% per annum.
The money supply is expected to grow by 34-38%; the broad money supply – by 33-37%; the rouble money supply – by 29-33%; the resource base of the Belarusian banks – by 33-37%.
The Belarusian banks will promote crediting of the real sector of economy by 36-41%. At the same time the volume of investment crediting will reach Br5.3-5.7 trillion. The banks are projected to allocate Br2.7 trillion for crediting housing construction; including subsidized loans – Br2.5 trillion.
Belarus turns the screw on opposition, U.S. objects
|Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the liberal United Civil Party|
The U.S. embassy in Minsk immediately condemned the actions of the former Soviet state ruled with an iron grip by Lukashenko, saying they could threaten trade relations, already hit by U.S. sanctions imposed last year on a state company.
Anatoly Lebedko, leader of the liberal United Civil Party, said he had received papers from the Interior Ministry banning him from travel and called it a political move after he had met President George Bush in December.
"The travel ban is a political decision," he told Reuters by phone. "The problems began after I visited the United States, where I and my colleagues had a conversation with President George Bush."
He said the Interior Ministry had linked the ban to a libel case against him which began in 2004 when he criticized the Belarusian government on Russian television. The case is yet to reach court.
The Justice Ministry said on Friday it had applied to the Supreme Court to close down the Communist Party, already suspended since August, because "the party violated the decision (to suspend it) and continued its political activities".
"The government wants to close our party because our ideas of social fairness are very popular. We are dangerous for the authorities," Communist party leader Sergei Kalyakin told Reuters. Kalyakin met Bush together with Lebedko.
The United States and the European Union accuse Lukashenko, in power for 13 years, of strangling democracy by jailing his opponents, shutting down independent media and rigging polls, including his own re-election to a third term in 2006.
Both barred Lukashenko and dozens of officials from entry after that landslide victory, which was followed by unprecedented protest rallies. He later jailed opposition candidate Alexander Kozulin for his role in the protests.
U.S. HITS BACK
Lukashenko says his rule has protected ordinary people from the political and economic turmoil of other ex-Soviet states since the fall of communism -- he maintains high social spending and is generally liked by the population.
In November, Washington forbade Americans from doing business with the state oil firm and threatened more action, prompting Lukashenko to say on Sunday he would expel the U.S. ambassador. In a tit-for-tat verbal exchange, the United States hit back.
"Moves by the Belarusian regime to block persons from this right (to leave a country) for political reasons could threaten the status of normal trade relations between Belarus and the United States," the embassy said in a statement on Friday in reaction to Lebedko's travel ban.
Belarus, squashed between its former giant overlord Russia and three EU member states, has tried to move away from dependence on Moscow especially after last year's dispute over gas import prices leading to supply cuts.
But in December, Belarus signed a fresh gas price deal and an agreement for a loan of $1.5 billion from Moscow, with another potential $2 billion loan to come.
"Minsk is not afraid to worsen relations with West because it had got Russian support again," Jaroslav Romanchuk, head of the Belarusian Mises think tank, said.
Belarus, Britain cooperate most successfully in sphere of education, diplomat says
|Nigel Gould-Davies, the Minsk-based British charge d’affaires|
Speaking about bilateral cooperation in the sphere, the diplomat noted that a branch of the London School of Public Relations had been opened in Minsk last year and the second group of trainees was to enroll in the courses in January. The first 12-member group, which consists of PR managers representing the country’s large companies, got down to studies last October.
In addition, Belarusian young professionals have been able to receive scholarships for attending British universities under the Chevening program.
The Minsk-based Privatization and Management Institute has provided training courses developed by Britain’s Open University to Belarusian managers.
Mr. Gould-Davies said that the development of cultural cooperation between the two countries was as much important. Although Belarus has no office of the British Council, there are opportunities for cultural exchange programs, the diplomat noted.
Belarus, UK fail to use potential of bilateral trade in full, diplomat says
Citing examples, the diplomat said that Spartak candies and Neman glassware would be in brisk demand in the UK market.
In the first nine months of 2007, Britain exported £41.5 million worth of goods to Belarus and imported more than £466.5 million worth of Belarusian-made goods, including £451.8 million worth of petroleum products.
The UK could invest in Belarus much more, but the country’s investment environment lacks transparency and stability, Mr. Gould-Davies noted, referring to the controversial “golden share” rule that allows the Belarusian government to intervene in the management of any company in which it once held a stake.
In addition, he said, potential British investors are scared away by excessive red tape and a too complicated taxation system, as well as the general political situation.
Belarusian Party of Communists denies report about coming liquidation
The government-controlled BelTA news agency reported on January 2 with reference to Justice Minister Viktar Halavanaw that the ministry plans to file a lawsuit seeking the closure of the BPC.
The news agency alleged that the party had failed to correct the flaws in its activities that had become the formal reason for its suspension. In particular, it said, some BPC chapters are still located at places other than their legal addresses and some chapters of the party conduct virtually no activities. Apart from this, the BPC membership list still includes deceased and incapacitated people and the party has failed to improve its membership fee registration practices, BelTA claimed.
“Maybe, the party attempted to eliminate these flaws, but the ministry has not received any proof of their correction,” Mr. Halavanaw was quoted as saying.
The news agency reported that the period of the party’s suspension was to expire on January 2.
“This information is almost completely false,” BPC Deputy Chairman Valery Ukhnalyow said in an interview with BelaPAN. “First, the period of the party’s suspension expires on February 2. Second, no official representing the justice ministry has inspected our party, our chapters so far, that’s why one may not speak about some irregularities or flaws.
Third, we are required to present all documents about the elimination of the flaws that became the reason for the party’s suspension 10 days before the expiry of the suspension period and these documents will surely be sent to the justice ministry on January 21 or 22.”
The BPC has already requested the justice ministry, the Supreme Court and BelTA to provide explanations over the report and retract it. The party regards the report as a preparation for its liquidation, Mr. Ukhnalyow stressed.
Fresh voices emerge from Under the Radar
From: NJ Star-Ledger
Hailing from Eastern Europe, "Generation Jeans" is a saga of cultural repression dramatized (in Russian with English surtitles) by Belarus Free Theatre, a troupe forced by its government to perform in secret locations.
Artist panels and discussions are also on the festival's agenda, while Russell suggests visitors should hang out afterward in the Public Theater's lobby bar to chat with others.
"Everybody will have plenty to talk about," he says.
Polish police hunt octogenarian Romeo fraudster
Photographs of the man, identified as Eugeniusz Gadomski, were published on the Internet site of the Warsaw Metropolitan Police.
"The man we are seeking is 170-175 centimetres tall, brown eyes, he may wear a moustache, grey hair, but he may colour it," reads the police profile. "He changes hairstyles often and has been seen wearing a ponytail, a brush-cut, hair combed back and parted on the side," it says.
Suspected of a long string of swindles, the 80-year-old has been in hiding since 1998, according to police.
"Eugeniusz Gadomski defrauded a significant sum of compensation for having been in a (WWII) concentration camp in which it turned out he never set foot," according to the statement.
"Moreover, he has swindled many single women, one of whom he also severely injured," it says.
Despite several warrants for his arrest, the octogenarian has successfully eluded police for years.
Muggers of tipsy tourists arrested in Poland
From: Gulf Times
“Typically one of the muggers would approach a drunk tourist going to their hotel late at night and ask for the time,” Krakow regional press officer Dariusz Nowak told AFP. “If it turned out to be a foreigner, gang members would follow him and then attack using tear gas.”
The muggers stole cash and valuables but made sure their victims retained their identity documents in the hope that they would not report the attacks to police, Nowak said.
“Some of the victims were drunk to the point they weren’t entirely certain whether they’d been mugged,” he said.
Around 20 attacks were reported to police over the last three months. The muggers were finally caught after special plain-clothes officers were stationed on Krakow’s scenic mediaeval central market square near which most muggings took place.
Officers managed to catch two muggers red-handed during an attack on a 62-year-old US citizen. A third was detained later.
The majority of victims were British. Budget flights from Britain have made Krakow in southern Poland a popular spot for short breaks, especially for groups of young men on stag nights.
The muggers, aged 31 to 34, face up to 12 years behind bars for assault using tear gas.
Ukraine ranked as second biggest potato eater in Europe
From: Itar Tass
“In Europe only Russia produces more potato than Ukraine, while as to the amount of its consumption per capita we are the second in the world after Belarus,” Ukrainian agricultural expert Andrei Yarmak said on Wednesday. He said potato is a staple food in the diet of Ukrainian people. “We consume it more than bread,” he added.
Yearly, an average Ukrainian national consumes 150 kilograms of potato. According to the Kiev international sociology institute, about 70 percent of able-bodied population, including those living in cities, grow potatoes.
Ukrainians started eating potato back in the 17th century, while by the end of the 18th century it was grown in all Ukrainian regions.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s favourite recipe is as follows. Potatoes are incised and lardon is put inside. They are salted, peppered, rolled into foil and put into the oven. Baked potatoes are served with slices of Danube herring, which, for its part, is served with vegetable oil, onion and lemon slices.
Nashi activist seized by Lithuanian border guards
From: Itar Tass
“The court sanctioned two-month arrest for Goloskokov on border trespassing charges,” he said.
The Nashi activist was seized in Lithuania on Tuesday as he had illegally crossed the border from Belarus. Details of the detention are unknown.
Lithuanian laws provide a fine, a detention or an up to two-year arrest for border trespassing.
Pauper or Oligarch - The Strange Case of Putin's Wealth
From: The Accidental Russophile
According to the Central Election Committee, President Putin declares the following assets:
- 77.7 square meter apartment in St. Petersburg
- 150 square meter land parcel in the Moscow region
- 2 Volgas registered in his name (1960 and 1965 vintage)
- 230 Shares of St. Petersburg Bank Stock
- R3,700,300 ($151,409) in total savings (3 bank accounts)
- R2,011,611 2006 annual earnings of ($82,311)
Since that time, we have been treated to the declarations of Stanislav Belkovsky, supposed Russian analyst, and his assessment that Vladimir Putin is worth over $40 billion and among the richest men in the world.
Belkovsky lists as Putin assets, owned secretly through various other parties and nefarious private means:
- 37% of Surgutneftegaz (estimated worth of $18 billion)
- 4.5% of Gazprom (estimated worth of $13 billion)
- over 50% of Gunvor (estimated worth of $10 billion)
Today via Forum.MSK and Johnson's Russia List, we are treated to the long-winded and rambling observations of Julia Latynina, who sees the scandal of these two disparate assessments of Putin's wealth growing.
It is amazing that Belkovskiy already said this a couple of weeks or three weeks ago, and everything was somehow kept quiet in the beginning, but now the scandal keeps spreading and spreading and spreading."Latynina goes on from there for a while, spinning sort of dark theories about how the US had to know about Putin's ill-gotten gains. Sure. Like we knew about WMDs.
"I can tell you from my own experience, that a colossal number of correspondents from Western publications started calling me just in the last week to ask me what I think of this."
Belkovskiy stated "that Putin controls 37 percent of the stock in Surgutneftegaz, 4.5 percent of the Gazprom stock, and 75 percent of the stock in the Gunvor company," the writer went on to say. "I should remind you that the Gunvor company, with capitalization estimated at $15-20 billion, now sells a huge amount of Russian oil, including the oil belonging to Yuganskneftegaz.
"I should also remind you that Khodorkovskiy was once accused of minimizing his taxes by selling oil from a company he owned through offshore firms also owned by him. This was called a crime.
"Obviously, if you calculate the price at which the Rosneft state company must have been selling oil to the non-state Gunvor offshore company for it to amass capitalization of $15-20 billion -- and I have never heard that any of Khodorkovskiy's offshore firms had capitalization approaching this figure -- you have to wonder: If what Khodorkovskiy was doing, moving money from one of his own pockets into another of his pockets, is a crime, then what would you call what people are doing when they move money from the state's pocket, namely the Rosneft company, to a private pocket, namely the Gunvor company?
"Gennadiy Timchenko is believed to own 50 percent of the stock in the Gunvor company. This elderly man has been in the oil business for a long time and has been a close friend of President Putin for a long time. In view of how many points Putin lost in the international arena because of the YuKOS affair, we have to conclude either that Putin is an extremely bighearted man, giving presents of this type to his friends, or that these friends are just the front men for someone else.
"Going back to Belkovskiy's statements, I certainly cannot imagine how he could prove them, and I seriously doubt that anyone ever will be able to prove that the figure of $40 billion is correct. In general, Vladimir Vladimirovich is a cautious man, and we saw, for example, that when the transfer of the controlling interest in AO (Joint-Stock Company) Rossiya to another president became inevitable, President Putin did not go against the Constitution and he did make General Director Dmitriy Anatolyevich Medvedev the titular owner of AO Rossiya.
"I think it would also be impossible to prove that Putin is the actual beneficiary of the Gunvor company or any other company, just as it would be impossible to prove that Putin is the actual beneficiary of AO Rossiya, whose titular owner will be President Dmitriy Anatolyevich Medvedev. It is difficult to believe that after being so excessively scrupulous in the constitutional matter, Putin would be less scrupulous in matters connected with property rights.
"And there is something else, or actually two things, that should be borne in mind. The first is that Putin, as I already said, apparently is an extremely generous man if he gives presents like these to his friends even though they create foreign policy problems for him. The second is that the issue of property ownership was not raised just before 2008 by accident, because it plays an extremely important role in politics, after all: When President Putin was deciding what he should do after 2008, whether he should go or stay, or when the Kremlin was deciding this, the following consideration must have been taken into account.
"If he had stayed on after 2008, there was a chance that the regime would have been illegitimate because it would have violated the Constitution, and the West does not like this, so it might have taken an interest in the Gunvor company at the very least. If he had not stayed -- i.e., if he had left -- another problem would have come up, because the people who are the official owners of various companies and who amassed considerable wealth during the Putin years, might say: 'Yes, we are the real owners, no one helped us, and we are not serving as a front for anyone else,' and there would be no way of proving the opposite.
No matter how you slice it, something doesn't match up with Putin's lifestyle and is declared wealth. There was some speculation a couple of years ago that with so many lesser mortals accumulating vast sums in the private sector, that Putin may seek to leave office for a high-paying role in Gazprom or heading some other lucrative gas or oil project (such as Nord Stream AG).
Putin once said, "You must obey the law, always, not only when they grab you by your special place". Some Russians have taken a small measure of pride in judging their President as being a tough and, in their perception, honest man. He was bringing the oligarchs to heel, after all and making them pay for their thefts from the Russian people. Could it be that Putin is the biggest thief of all?
We are left wondering what will happen when that inevitable day comes when Putin is no longer in power and the law potentially grabs him by his special place. It would certainly prove an incentive to retain political power in Russia at the highest level possible, for the greatest length of time available.
We are also left wondering about how these clues and details have been planted in the news media, along with other small revealed scandals such as velvet re-privatization.
05 January 2008 @ 21:08
Outside has been a mad crazy frost. For the last two nights there hasn't been anything from the furnaces or metal pipes. I've got a freaken' sore throat and a head cold from it. After this morning I have four days off. Today I am going to sleep the whole day and then I am going to prepare a mega-meal, sit, eat, watch movies and soon Pittsburgh play will be playing. Basically, I will be at home. Im mean, my friends called and wanted to hang out, but I mean the hell with it already.
Tomorrow I am heading home to Orsha to see my family. How I miss the old times of New Years. I am going to be out of my head the whole time. I need to get my mom a keyboard though.
That cat ripped off the "l" and broke her old one. Freaking vandal! Tomorrow all of the relatives will be there for shish-kabobs. We'll be happy and do some more dinking.
Before the New Year I called Pozharny. He has come from Moscow to work in Orsha. He has already arranged a concert, even getting with Van Carum. I of course will make my obligatory appearance as there are many I have not seen in a while.
All that I can say now
|Atmoravi; Homeboy from Gommel|
I may not be able to read all that I missed over the last six days. (I heard a little of it over the telephone but you know it is difficult to comment over the telephone.)
I came in late yesterday and today (Already yesterday) has been a very busy working day.
I can only comment on what I have received after 7 (The workday ends at 6) and this would be while I am still at work.
I am sorry to all of you who contacted me earlier via ICQ. Tomorrow will be the same at work. Maybe I will have free days over the weekend.
I really must write about their adventures and visit if this turns out to be relevant and interesting.
I often see for myself that I can not properly describe the big (important) events in my life ... my hands simply cannot reach that far ... or to even sum up the events ...
Thank you everyone for such a great number of comments .... I am simply amazed ... Once again, thank you!
4th Christmas International Ice Hockey Tournament for Prizes of Belarus’ President starts in Minsk January 4
The 4th Christmas International Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the Prizes of the President of the Republic of Belarus opens today, January 4, in Minsk. Competing in the event will be eight teams. They will be divided into two groups. Group A features Belarus, Canada, Switzerland and Austria. Group B – Russia, Germany, Finland and Ukraine. The group winners advance to the finals; the second-placed teams will play for the bronze medal.
The host country is traditionally represented by the hockey team of the President of the Republic of Belarus. The Belarusian team will play all matches in the sports palace. Belarus will play Canada tonight, January 4, Switzerland – on January 5 and Austria – on January 6.
The official opening ceremony will take place in the sports palace on January 4 at 18h00.
Since 2006 the tournament has been held under the patronage of the president’s sports club. The list of the organisers includes the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Belarus, Minsk City Council and Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus.
Hleb proves SWP was not needed
As is often the case with players said to be on Le Boss’ shopping list, Alexander Hleb was linked with several other Premier League clubs before he swapped Stuttgart for Emirates Stadium in June 2005.
London’s Evening Standard suggested Chelsea were ready to hijack any deal taking the man from Minsk to north London. But in the end, they splashed out over £21 million on Shaun Wright-Phillips instead – more than double the reported fee Arsenal paid the German outfit for Hleb.
Helb has since drawn comparisons with the legendary, late Manchester United great George Best. SWP meanwhile, has struggled to justify his mammoth transfer tag. Arsene knows.
I will be the first to admit I was sure Wright-Phillips was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father in becoming an Arsenal great and still believe he would fit seamlessly into our team. But him over Hleb? No thank-you.
Like several others of today’s Arsenal squad, Hleb took a little time to adapt and emerge as one of our most of important and consistent performers. But the man with the Premier League’s most deft touch, quickest feet and sharpest turn of direction, has excelled during 2007 to such an extent recent internet speculation has him primed for a big-money move to Barcelona in the summer.
Christmas comes late for Russians
From: Earth Times
Before she can unwrap her presents, Alyona goes to the Christmas service with her three elder siblings and her parents. In Russia, the service takes all night. The smallest children therefore get their own beds in the church.
Under the atheist Soviet regime, the Communist Party wanted to take away the people's faith, but it was clever enough to maintain the holiday tradition. So two famous fairy-tale heroes were transformed into Christmas characters.
For decades the Russian version of Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), and his granddaughter Snowmaiden (Snegurotshka), have been bringing the presents on the morning of New Year's Day.
Even though millions of Russians have returned into the Church since the end of the communist era, the tradition of presents on New Year's Day has survived in most families until the present day.
As in the West, the children find their parcels under the colourfully decorated Christmas tree, the Russian Yolka.
The fact that millions of people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus don't celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24 like many other Europeans is due to a different calendar.
The Orthodox Church continues to follow the old Julian calendar, while Russia - like other Western countries - started using the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the 20th century. There's a 13-day difference between the two.
Alyona's family has to rely on their car on Christmas Eve. In their own quarter -Strogino, a high-rise estate in the western suburbs - too many believers crowd into the few churches.
So Alyona's family travels into the city centre, where the density of churches is much higher, to attend the Christmas service.
The ritual, which ends a 40-day fasting period, takes until 5 o'clock in the morning. The biggest Christmas service is celebrated near the Kremlin in the Redeemer Cathedral with its giant golden dome.
Each year the patriarch of the Russian-Orthodox Church, Alexi II, reads the Gospel to thousands of faithful.
Tired, but excited at the same time, Alyona will return home with her parents after the service in the early morning hours. Parents tell their children to rest for a few hours.
But the children can only see the presents under the Christmas tree. Alyona will get a doll this year, a little zoo and a hairdressing kit will also be under the Yolka.
According to the Orthodox calendar, the faithful are meant to celebrate Christmas for a whole week after the long fasting period. However, the constitution objects. On January 9 everybody has to return to work.
At least the large empire is allowed to start the new year traditionally with a week of holidays. Many families take the opportunity to celebrate extensively with friends and relatives.
The country's increasing wealth allows more and more Russians to fly to Turkey, Egypt or Thailand over the holidays.
Meanwhile, thanks to the differing calendars, the long-term crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS) celebrate Christmas twice. US astronauts Peggy Whitson and Dan Tani were already allowed to unwrap their Christmas presents.
However, they were late because the Progress freighter only docked on the station on December 26. On January 7 it's finally the turn of Russian cosmonaut Juri Malentshenko.