Minsk city development plans, Housing construction, Border checkpoints, Gas, Motovelo, Real Estate, Human-Trafficking, Strikes, Blogs and Chess...
President surveys Minsk city development plans
From: Office of the president
|President gets familiar with the Victors’ Avenue general development plan|
The Head of State was reported on Minsk city development plans, in particular the plan related to the development of Victors’ Avenue. The implementation of Minsk architects’ plans will add an ultra modern twist to the city’s architecture and spruce up the city’s overall look.
Around $1.5bn to be invested in new Pobeditelei Avenue in Minsk
According to Viktor Nikitin, the chief architect of Minsk, about two dozens of new buildings will emerge along Victors’ Avenue within five to six years from now. The investments therein are expected to average $ 1.5 billion, including $ 1 billion in the form of foreign investments.
Hotel Belarus will be dismantled and replaced with a new hotel and business centre. Specialists say, today the interior of Hotel Belarus does not meet international requirements, and small rooms of the hotel make it impossible to remodel the building so as to make the hotel more convenient for the guests.
Minsk architects proposed dismantling Hotel Belarus and building a modern-day architectural ensemble of three tower-shaped structures in its place, with two of them housing a five-star 40- to 45-storey hotel complex; the third building will host an A-class business centre meeting all international requirements. Visitors will also find an entertainment centre, a swimming pool, sports facilities, restaurants and other facilities there.
“We already have those who are willing to participate in this investment project. The prospective investor will finance the dismantling of the existing hotel,” said Viktor Nikitin.
According to him, a well-known international hotel-operator Hyatt has already began the construction of a five-star hotel in the vicinity of Lake Komsomolskoye. This will be a 280-room hotel. It is expected to be built in 2 years. The hotel will be no taller than 7 to 8 storeys so as not to block the view of the lake, said Viktor Nikitin. The investments in this project will surpass $ 60 million.
On the whole the Head of State praised the plans of Minsk city administration related to the development of the city.
The Svisloch River determins a lot in the avenue’s development
At present Pobeditelei Avenue is a major motorway of the city. There are plans to build and reconstruct 20-25 objects there within 5-6 years.
The avenue’s uniqueness is put down to the avenue’s connection with the city’s historical centre, with the River Svisloch determining a lot in the avenue’s development. The avenue is over nine kilometres long. There are many unique objects there such as the Sports Palace, the Football Manege, Victoria Hotel, a tennis compound, major residential districts, with the construction of the sports compound Minsk Arena underway. Apart from that, there are plans to fit the avenue with major European-level unique objects such as hotels and business centres, sports and entertainment establishments, administrative buildings.
There are plans to rebuild the Minsk citadel in the part of the avenue, which belongs to the city’s historical core. The project provides for erecting a national historical and archive centre based on an underground museum of the city archaeology and history. The museum will combine museum, cultural and educational functions. There will be ground-level promenade solariums, which will also be used as open-air exhibition areas. The restored embankment and wooden entrance gates of the ancient stronghold will be the key parts of the compound. There are also plans to unearth the part of the River Nemiga, which now flows in an underground canal.
Apart from that, the head of state approved the proposal to revise technical standards, which regulate the number of storeys of buildings constructed in Minsk.
Today there is a need to step up housing construction, including by means of citizens’ savings
From: Office of the president
The system-based work in the field of participatory construction of residential housing began in Belarus in 1998. However, the lack of comprehensive legislation in this field has led to discrepancies in approaches utilised by regional authorities and building companies, and, as a result, to jeopardising the interests of the citizens-customers who take part in the participatory construction projects. For example, construction time-limits were often broken; the price of such housing used to be considerably increased in the course of construction. The quality of the housing also provoked complains.
In this respect, the necessity arose to improve the relevant legislation. Experts working for the Government and the Presidential Administration developed a range of measures to regulate the legal relationships between the builders and the citizens-customers of such housing, the measures being aimed, first and foremost, at protecting the rights of the citizens-customers. In June 2006, the President signed Decree No. 396 “On Participatory Construction of Many-Apartment Residential Houses” which introduced rigid rules in this sphere, including one rule on keeping the price of housing intact in the course of construction.
But in reality, the toughening of the rules on the participatory construction market resulted in building companies’ losing their interest in this business: even objective reasons notwithstanding (like increasing prices for construction materials), they had no right to adjust the housing prices. As a result, participatory construction nearly came to a halt, triggering an increase in prices for previously-owned housing. Therefore, it was necessary to attend to some issues related to participatory construction at the presidential level.
According to the Head of State, these are the Government and the Presidential Administration who are to blame for the present situation, as they have failed to foresee all the consequences of the measures proposed previously.
“It’s clear that housing construction will long remain a priority in Belarus. It is not only the solution of the citizens’ main problem, but also a good locomotive for economic growth,” the President said.
Today there is a need to step up housing construction, including by means of citizens’ savings. It’s necessary to enable building companies to enhance and improve their material and technological basis, step up their capacities. Builders should have some margin in adjusting housing prices, the right to adjust the prices depending on inflation parameters, the President said. Relevant adjustments should be introduced into effective legal documents in this field, Alexander Lukashenko said.
As much as RUB250m for reconstruction of border checkpoint Novaya Rudnya
The project was funded by the Union State budget and partially by the central government budget of Belarus.
The reconstruction increased Novaya Rudnya’s vehicle throughput from 650 to 895 vehicles daily (620 cars, 260 trucks, 15 buses). It is not the limit, technologies are being improved, which is why it is possible to double the throughput yet, said Alexander Shpilevsky.
Construction of modern border checkpoints is brought about by the growing number of vehicles that cross the Belarusian border. In 2007 alone Novaya Rudnya saw around 150,000 tonnes of cargo cross the border, said the official.
In line with the programme for the top-priority development of the infrastructure of borderline customs clearance stations there are plans to commission another three border checkpoints in winter 2008 — Bruzgi, Berestovitsa and Mokrany.
This year the reconstruction of border checkpoints Domachevo and Benyakoni will complete. There are also plans to complete designing and start working on three border checkpoints — Grigorovschina, Begosovo and Privalka. The work will be funded by Belarus. “We plan to file requests for funding with the Union Cabinet for the construction and reconstruction of other border checkpojnts, but it will not happen before 2009,” specified the SCC Chairman.
2007 saw the completion of the Union State’s programme for top-priority development of borderline customs clearance stations in 2002-2007. As part of the programme eight international vehicle border checkpoints were built and reconstructed. Those are Kamennyi Log, Varshavsky Most, Kozlovichi, Novaya Guta, Bruzgi, Berestovitsa, Mokrany, Novaya Rudnya.
CSTO officials to discuss fight against illegal migration
The first session of the coordination council of heads of the law enforcement bodies of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation handling issues relating to the fight against illegal migration will be held on January 23 in Moscow. Belarus is expected to be represented by Major General Viktor Filistovich, Deputy Interior Minister – chief of the head public security and special militia department, BelTA learnt from the CSTO press service.
The coordination council will elect its chairman, will set up a working group composed of experts of the CSTO migration services, interior bodies (police), security and border services, will discuss issues concerning the organisation of joint coordinated operational actions in 2008 and special operations aimed at counteracting illegal migration including human trafficking and will approve the action plan for the current year.
The coordination council of heads of the law enforcement bodies of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation handling issues relating to the fight against illegal migration was founded on October 6, 2007 in line with the relevant resolution of the CSTO Council. Its main goal is to provide assistance in preparing and holding coordinated operational actions and special operations aimed at counteracting illegal migration, to ensure cooperation between authorised bodies in order to enhance efficiency of the fight against illegal migration and offences connected with it, to put forward proposals relating to joint practical measures aimed at combating illegal migration.
Belarus fixes new prices for natural, liquefied gas
In winter the price for natural gas in houses, flats and cottages fitted with gas meters and gas-fired heaters will reach Br172.7 per 1m? (with gas water boilers) and Br166.2 per 1m? (without them). The summer price will total Br376 and Br462 per 1m? respectively.
The price for gas will jump to Br3696 a month per one resident in houses and flats without gas meters, with gas cookers and centralized hot water or water boiler (except of gas boilers). People with gas cookers and gas water boilers (without the centralized hot water) will have to pay Br8648 a month per one person.
Liquefied gas in houses and flats with gas meters and gas-fired heaters in winter will cost Br2889.9 per 1m? in the dwellings with gas water boilers and Br3067.2 per 1m? in the housing without them. The summer period will claim Br1025.5 and Br1233 per 1m? respectively. The price for liquefied gas in houses and flats without gas meters, with gas cookers and centralized hot water or water boiler (except of gas boilers) will stand at Br3699 a month per one person.
Belarus fixes new public utilities tariffs
In line with Resolution #69 the Council of Ministers has fixed new public utilities tariffs from January 1, 2008.
The document was adopted in compliance with a subparagraph of Decree #604 of October 6, 2006 “On measures to increase the efficiency of public utilities service”, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.
Housing maintenance rate totaled Br240.3 a month per 1m? of the net floor area. New prices and rates on heating and hot water will make up Br36355.5 per 1Gcal, cold water – Br321.4 per 1m?, the sewerage system – Br201.6 per 1m?, consumer waste removal and neutralization – Br4005.2 per 1m?, lifts– Br1184 per one member a month. The country has also set new prices for natural and liquefied gas, electric power.
In line with the document, tenants, landlords, houses fitted with multirate meters or automated energy check systems pay for the consumed energy choosing between time differentiated and flat-rate tariffs.
Belarus imposes new electrical energy tariffs
On January 1, 20008 Belarus imposed new tariffs on electrical energy for the population – Br116 for one kilowatt-hour. People living in the apartment houses equipped with electric ovens will pay Br84. The Council of Ministers passed resolution No 69 to approve the new tariffs, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.
The resolution also imposes tariffs on electrical energy for the population differentiated by the time periods. For example, during the minimum load period (from 10pm to 5pm) the cost of electrical energy will be Br81,2 for one kilowatt-hour; during the maximum load period (from 5pm to 10pm) – Br232. The tariffs for the houses equipped with electrical ovens will be Br58,8 and Br168 respectively.
The cost of electrical energy for the heating and hot water supply needs with the connected load of the equipment of more than 5 kilowatt will be Br116 during the minimum load period (from 11pm to 6am); during the rest of the day – Br580 for one kilowatt-hour.
British engineering company Renfrew Group to design Motovelo motorcycles
Renfrew Group design director and car director arrived in Minsk to hold talks with Motovelo representatives, to get familiar with the production site and latest achievements of the Belarusian specialists in this field. They held talks with Belarusian-Austrian Motorcycle Company, which was set up after the restructuring of the business by the new owner of Motovelo. A cooperation protocol was signed after the talks.
As BelTA learnt from director of ???? Holding GmbH Alexander Muraviev, “we decided to invite the British specialists to design perspective series of the Minsk motorcycles in the shortest possible time, as over the past five years Motovelo has not changed its product line and has stopped satisfying the market needs.” According to him, new motorcycles may be designed during the current year. They will expand Motovelo offering list. All motorcycle models made by the Minsk-based company will be redesigned. The production of New Neo-Classic and Treat-Fighter models will be launched soon.
Renfrew Group has been working in the market for 25 years. It has been designing motorcycles for more than 10 years. It works with racing teams and the world famous motorcycle producers – CCH, Honda and Suzuki.
Motorcycle and bicycle companies set up at OAO Motovelo
Two companies – motorcycle and bicycle companies have been set up at OAO Motovelo, BelTA learnt from Director General of OAO Motovelo Sergei Onoshko.
According to the director, the two companies were set up in line with the development concept developed by ATEC Holding GmbH (Austria), the new owner of OAO Motovelo.
In line with decree #354 of July 26 “On some issues of OAO Motovelo”, 2007, the Austrian company bought 99.7% of shares of OAO Motovelo.
According to the director of the company, the structural transformations of Motovelo will be continued. The new motorcycle and bicycle companies will advance their products to the domestic and foreign markets. The basic trends of their activity are marketing, products sales and development of new samples of motorcycles and bikes.
Founded in November 1945 Minsk Motorcycle and Bicycle Plant was jointstockicized in 1999. Some 100% of shares belonged to the personnel. Earlier the plant was successfully selling products to Russia and several Asian countries. Motovelo has been recently forced out from the market by the Chinese competitors. In 2006 the President of Belarus issued a decree on restructuring debts of the company to the republican and local budgets and on giving Motovelo budget subsidies. The equity issue was carried out to pay off debts for energy resources. After the restructuring the state got 99% of shares of the company. However, last year the company failed to meet the production target.
Taking a Chance in Belarus' Real Estate Market
From: Moscow Times
Yet, even as outside investor interest is swelling, there continue to be solid obstacles to buying properties.
All land in Belarus is publicly owned -- even Belarussians who buy homes or commercial buildings usually receive only a 50-year lease on the land. And all transactions involving state property valued at more than the equivalent of $150,000 must be approved personally by President Alexander Lukashenko.
Sale prices are expressed in dollars but paid in Belarussian rubles; rents usually are expressed in euros.
Neither foreigners nor foreign legal entities are allowed to buy property, although it can be done indirectly through Belarussian companies. "Everyone has their own strategic plan to participate in projects in different sectors here," said Mikhail Gradovich, managing director of Colliers International Belarus.
In May, Colliers opened an office in Minsk, the first international real estate consultancy in the country. It focuses on commercial property sectors: retail, office, industrial and hotels.
Gradovich said customers generally can be divided into two groups: locals with access to land who are seeking investment to help fund development, and outsiders who are eager to buy properties but generally cannot.
Last year, he said, private investment funds, mostly from Europe, started to show interest in Belarus for the first time.
Despite the strong demand for new properties, Gradovich said, investment in construction projects is almost unheard of because Westerners are still very cautious about placing money in a country that will not grant them rights to land. Also, new commercial construction is generally of low quality. Only a small number of buildings would be considered class A by international standards.
Russians, who are used to operating in a similar environment, comprise most of the foreign investors in new construction. There is no official border between the two countries, so capital can be transferred from Russia into Belarus more easily than from anywhere else.
When Western buyers negotiate with potential local partners, Gradovich said, they are discouraged by the "sometimes strange" steps they need to take and often "quietly withdraw." The process of building is frustrating and extremely bureaucratic, he said, with high fees and lengthy permit processes required during every step of the construction process.
Residential properties in Minsk average about $2,000 per square meter, up from $1,000 two years ago, according to Realt.by, a Belarussian real estate Internet site. The prices vary slightly according to the number of rooms, with units with more rooms being slightly more expensive. Gradovich attributes the jump to fierce competition for insufficient housing supplies due to increasing incomes and buyers seeking an investment or better housing.
Most of Belarus was flattened during World War II, so residences today are tall apartment blocks built during the Stalin era; a similar style is used for about 80 percent of all new residential construction. Outside the cities, most people live in houses.
Kevin Smith, a part owner of Belarus Trade House, said the company was planning to enter the properties market for a very simple reason: "Price."
"Prices have been going up rapidly," said Smith, who also imports sparkling wine and crystal from Belarus to Britain. "Minsk is still fairly cheap compared to many other cities in the region."
By comparison, residential prices in Moscow average more than $6,000 per square meter, according to Evans Property Services, a real estate agency with offices in Moscow and New York. And in Riga, Latvia, they average $3,234 per square meter, according to Colliers.
"The country seems to be opening up much more to the U.S. and Europe over the last year than they have done previously," Smith said, attributing the change to Belarus seeking new partners following a dispute with Russia over oil deliveries in January 2007.
Smith said he was looking at several different approaches, including bringing in big investors on major property development projects on one end, and smaller deals in residential properties.
Even with supplies short and prices growing in all property sectors, Gradovich said the office market was the most promising because of the high and growing demand.
Retail real estate prices are increasing by an average of 25 to 30 percent per year, according to Colliers.
For warehouse and industrial space, the demand has doubled while supply remained low, Colliers said. For example, the prices of unheated warehouses in Minsk rose by 60 to 80 percent over the last year.
There are no international hotel operators in Belarus and the majority of all hotels are state-owned.
Smith said prosperity was growing and the market could eventually become as hot as in the Baltic states next door. After mortgage lending increased in Latvia, Smith said, property prices took off. "In Belarus, it's not possible for Belarussians to borrow, but for foreigners to buy, that's starting to move," he said.
UN: More Human-Trafficking Data Needed
|hief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa points to a folder during an interview with the Associates Press at his office at the U.N. headquarters in Vienna, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008. Costa said the trafficking of human beings is a complex, murky issue and some countries are not taking the problem as seriously as they should be.|
"We only see the tip of the iceberg but we have not succeeded in pushing this iceberg out of the water," Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told The Associated Press in an interview.
Costa, who described human trafficking as possibly the most difficult issue his office deals with, made his comments before a conference on the matter to be held in Vienna next month.
The three-day gathering, which starts Feb. 13, is part of the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. The initiative was launched by Costa's drugs and crime office in March 2007 to increase knowledge and awareness of the issue, promote effective responses and foster joint action partnerships.
"We need to mobilize people by understanding better and we need better statistics so as to identify specifically what to do," Costa said, while acknowledging that the matter was "murky" and often difficult to quantify.
"We are dealing with human beings. We are not dealing with commodities and that makes it difficult to measure — but we will succeed," he said.
In preparing the meeting, known as the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, Costa said organizers have run into countries that appeared not to fully grasp the severity of the problem.
"We did run into some member states that, how can I say, maintain ... a sort of benign neglect who say, for instance, 'Well, this is not human trafficking or slavery — it's just prostitution,'" Costa said.
"I sense that greater educational efforts on our part are needed to make sure that the crime is fully understood and the severity fully appreciated," he added.
Costa declined to divulge any names, saying he did not want to "shame" anyone.
"Those are limited cases but in some instances they are important cases, countries well known to all of us," he said.
Costa also noted that some states — such as Moldova, Belarus and Nigeria — were becoming very "militant" in their efforts to stop trafficking.
"Belarus and Moldova are on the right track in terms of recognizing the severity of the problem," Costa said, adding that some European and Asian countries, as well as the United States, have also been doing more to fight human trafficking.
Moldova, Belarus and Nigeria were ranked as recruiting countries in a report by the drugs and crime office released in April 2006. The report showed that most victims of human trafficking are women and children who are abducted or recruited in their homelands, transported through other countries and exploited in destination countries.
The report also found that the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation or forced labor affects virtually every region of the world and called on governments to do more to reduce demand, protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.
On Tuesday, Costa also noted the existence of a U.N. protocol designed to combat human trafficking, adding that it called for better statistical evidence.
"We would like now, on account of this protocol, (to) put additional pressure on member states so that we do get ... basic information," he said.
Belarus wants to draw $2 Bln credit from Russia
"We are interested in drawing one more Rssian credit - $2 billion," he said.
Kharkovets explained that, "from the point of view of the value of resources, no cheaper credit can be found now. The repayment schedule is especially favorable and effective."
A $1.5 billion Russian credit was drawn in December 2007 on very favorable terms. "It would be wonderful if the new credit were extended on the same terms," Kharkovets said.
JSC Uralkali says Belarus jv BPC not subject to US Treasury sanctions
Russia's largest potash producer also said OFAC has confirmed that US persons may continue to enter into transactions and have business dealings with BPC.
However, Uralkali said it can give no assurance that OFAC's current position will not change.
On Nov 19, Uralkali said it would seek clarification from the US Treasury after Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemicals (Belneftekhim) and its wholly owned unit Belneftekhim USA Inc were added to the Treasury's list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons.
The company said any assets under US jurisdiction held by these entities must be frozen, and US persons are prohibited from transacting or doing business with such entities.
JSC Uralkali said its operations have not been affected by the above designation but added its 50 pct joint venture partner, BPC could ultimately be affected.
The company said it continues to evaluate the situation and its potential impact on the company.
Belarus protest dispersed by police
From: Reuters and Javno
The rally, the second such protest this month, went ahead in central October Square without official permission and organizers said about 15 activists were detained.
Clearly wanting to avoid confrontation after Interior Minister Viktor Naumov threatened to remove them by force, they were pushed to nearby pavements by riot police beating their shields.
"We now see a general practice in Belarus of state pressure on business," Viktor Krival, one of the leaders of the small business protest, told protesters in the square, scene of big demonstrations against Lukashenko's re-election two years ago.
"The decree aims to destroy the individual entrepreneur."
Businessmen say the new regulations deny them the right to hire workers outside their immediate families or obliges them to re-register and be subject to higher taxes.
Leaders of the 200,000-strong movement of small entrepreneurs have threatened to go on strike from next month and to withhold tax payments. Protests three years ago prompted authorities to roll back on changes in regulations.
Lukashenko is accused by Western countries of running roughshod over basic rights by jailing opponents, crushing independent media and rigging elections, including his re-election to a third term in 2006.
Dozens of activists were detained at a similar protest two weeks ago and handed short jail terms for public order offences.
Belarus's most prominent opposition leader, interviewed by Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said authorities were reacting "very nervously" by arresting protesters.
Entrepreneurs, once apolitical, had been galvanized by the threat to their livelihood, Alexander Milinkevich said, and the liberal and nationalist opposition was helping them.
"While Lukashenko is putting the thumbscrews on the domestic private sector, he is handing out licenses everywhere in the cities to foreign supermarket chains which small businesses can no longer compete with," Milinkevich told the daily.
"In this situation, the merchants recognize that their only chance for survival is to take their protest on to the streets."
Belarus Leader Lukashenko Dismisses Business Rally
The president of Belarus on Tuesday dismissed complaints by entrepreneurs about new rules governing business and said protests were being stage-managed by the opposition.
A court in the ex-Soviet state jailed and fined 12 of about 2,000 activists who joined an unauthorised rally on Monday that was broken up by police. The opposition movement Vyasna said the participants were handed 15 day sentences for public order offences and fined up to $700.
But President Alexander Lukashenko, accused in the West of crushing fundamental rights, said businessmen were being manipulated by Belarus's liberal and nationalist opposition.
"Money and business do not like people going into the street. It is clearly those people who want destabilisation," Lukashenko, referring to the opposition, was quoted as saying by BELTA news agency.
"We will not allow our calm city of Minsk to be pitched into turmoil," he said during a visit to Minsk town hall. "It seems there were practically no businessmen there yesterday - only one in 10. And even those left after saying they had been misled."
Twenty-three activists were jailed after a similar protest two weeks ago, including leaders of the entrepreneur movement.
Leaders of the 200,000-strong movement have threatened to go on strike from next month and to withhold tax payments unless the new rules are rescinded. Another rally is scheduled for mid-February.
Protests three years ago prompted authorities to roll back on changes in regulations.
OSCE urges Belarus to free journalist jailed over Mohammed cartoon
From: Ria Novosti
An OSCE media freedom representative criticized the former Soviet republic's decision to jail Alexander Zdvizhkov, ex-deputy editor of the Zhoda newspaper, in a high-security prison for reprinting controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
"In 21st century Europe, it is shocking to see an editor arrested, tried behind closed doors and punished beyond any acceptable limits only for reprinting cartoons produced elsewhere and that have been published everywhere," Miklos Haraszti said.
The cartoons, which provoked outrage and riots throughout the Muslim world when published in 2005, were originally printed in a Danish newspaper.
Zhoda was closed down in March 2006 after criminal proceedings had been launched for 'inciting religious hatred' in connection with the publication of the cartoons.
The newspaper was later reopened after Zdvizhkov's arrest in November 2007, following its former editor's return to Belarus after two years of self-imposed exile in Russia and Ukraine.
"I see the imprisonment of Zdvizhkov and the closing of Zhoda...as part of a campaign against a team of independent journalists, one of the few that are still working in Belarus," Haraszti said.
Ruslan Alekhno will represent Belarus at Eurovision 2008 Song Contest
The gala-concert of finalists of the National Television Musical Project EuroFest which is a qualifying round of the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Minsk on January 21. Four contenders: Gunesh, Ruslan Alekhno, bands Po Glazam and Litesound fought for the right to represent Belarus at the international musical contest.
Winners of the Eurovision contest of different years took part in the concert. Sertab (Turkey, 2003), Ruslana (Ukraine, 2004) and Lordi (Finland, 2006) were among them.
Eurovision 2008 will be held in Belgrade, Serbia in May this year.
No Flood So Far From Schengen's Expansion
From: Moscow Times
Governments in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic said there was no evidence of a rise in either illegal immigration or crime since the EU's Schengen zone was enlarged on Dec. 21 -- although the EU's own border agency says it is too early to draw conclusions.
"There's been no new mass migration detected, and the situation on a whole has been rather quiet," said Gabriele Hermani, a German Interior Ministry spokeswoman.
"We're confident the reorganized federal police force [ex-border patrol] will master the challenges," she said. Some 6,000 police operate in mobile patrols in a 30-kilometer-wide strip at the German frontier, randomly checking one in 2,000 vehicles.
The extension of the Schengen zone on Dec. 21 to nine more nations created an area of passport-free travel spread over 4,000 kilometers and 24 countries, from Estonia to Portugal.
The enlargement brought in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It is expected to boost business and tourism but brought fears of increased people-trafficking and crime.
In Germany, where tabloid media and a police union fanned fears, the Interior Ministry said about 500 people, most from Chechnya, were caught between Dec. 21 and Jan. 13 and sent back to Poland. It said many of those caught had applied previously for asylum in Poland and had not entered the EU after Dec. 21.
German police unions said only a fraction of illegal immigrants were caught, warning that the true number is far higher.
But Interior Ministry officials said the numbers, which rose briefly in the final week of 2007, were similar to before enlargement. They said the fact that illegal immigrants were caught showed the system works.
The issue has also stirred emotions in Austria. Tabloid newspapers raised worries of a massive increase in illegal migrants and asylum-seekers, but broadsheet dailies, public television and other media called the fears groundless.
Austrian Interior Minister G?nther Platter said he felt the debate had been hijacked for partisan politics.
"You have to take the public's fears very, very seriously," Platter said. "It's obviously a different situation when the border controls suddenly disappear. But I don't see more seeking asylum ... and I don't see an increase in crime."
Figures from Poland's border agency headquarters show the number of illegal immigrants stopped on the EU frontiers under Polish jurisdiction -- with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine -- was down nearly 50 percent in the three weeks after Dec. 21.
"Too little time has passed to identify any particular trends," said Michal Parzyszek, a spokesman for the EU's external borders watchdog."If any surge has occurred, it would be between the nine new Schengen states and the previous members," he said.
Putin deploys a new weapon against hostile foreign press - his judo master
President Vladimir Putin has also received a regular battering from the foreign media over Russia's human rights record, not to mention last month's allegedly rigged parliamentary election.
But now Putin, apparently fed up with Russia's enduringly poor image abroad, has decided to do something about the bad publicity: he has sent for his old judo master.
Putin has asked his long-time friend and judo guru Vasily Shestakov to head the National Information Centre - a new press and information centre in Moscow.
Shestakov is currently an MP in the state Duma with the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party. He once wrote a book with Putin entitled Judo, History, Theory and Practice, and apparently taught the future president some of his best throws.
Shestakov was yesterday unavailable for comment. "He's out and I'm not going to bother him," his secretary told the Guardian. But judging from a photo in Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper showing Shestakov's formidable neck, he is not someone to mess with.
The centre opens next month, in time for Russia's presidential election on March 2. It will host events for Russian and foreign journalists and also put them in touch with Kremlin officials, a state council spokesman, Ivan Makushok, told the agency Interfax.
The centre will be housed in a gigantic complex a short walk from the Kremlin. It will be next door to the current office of the presidential administration. Unlike in most government buildings, journalists will be encouraged to hang out there and use the internet cafe.
The initiative suggests that Putin, who is likely to become Russia's next prime minister when he steps down as president in May, is not totally indifferent to what the world thinks of him, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.
It also follows a tumultuous year for Russia. The president has clashed bitterly with the west over a series of international issues. These have included Kosovo, Iran's nuclear programme, and the US administration's plans to put its missile defence system in central Europe.
The centre will open its doors at a time when Russia's relations with Britain are at rock bottom. Last week Russia forcibly closed the British Council's two regional offices, and yesterday workmen removed the neon "British Council" sign from the St Petersburg branch.
A foreign policy expert said he believed the Kremlin was still basically impervious to criticism from the west. "My deep conviction is that Russia hasn't cared about its international image for a long time," Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, said yesterday. "Two years ago it did. Now it doesn't. It believes that the international environment is hostile and that it is impossible to change the negative attitude in the west and the western press."
According to Kommersant newspaper, Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea football club, is one of several businessman backers of the new press and information centre, but a spokesman for Abramovich declined to comment.
Russia's media is almost entirely controlled by the Kremlin. Critics are blacklisted from state TV. Officials, however, said they had invited Alexei Venediktov, the head of the radio station Ekho Moskvy - one of the last sources of independent news in Russia - to join the centre's supervisory board.
Putin, meanwhile, has credited judo with rescuing him from a life of delinquency, when he was growing up in the grimy backstreets of Soviet-era Leningrad, Russia's second city, now St Petersburg.
Last year Shestakov said that he had been wrongly described as Putin's judo teacher. They merely trained together, he said. "I can't physically have been his trainer, because I'm younger than him. We train together, and practise together, but I've never been his teacher," he told the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestiya.
Monster lorry jam chokes Polish-Ukranian border
From: EU Business
"There is currently a 60-hour wait to cross the border. Customs agents are taking holidays, some are even quitting their jobs over low wages," regional Polish customs spokeswoman Marzena Siemieniuk told AFP.
Fourteen people including several customs agents working at the Dorohusk crossing were detained by police in January on allegations of corruption, Lublin police spokeswoman Anna Smarzak told AFP Tuesday.
Lorry drivers frustrated by the huge border delay and the lack of toilets and other sanitary facilities blocked the border for several hours on Thursday, likely sparking the monster queue, Siemieniuk said.
"There are currently more than 1,600 lorries waiting on the Polish side to cross over to Ukraine and more vehicles are joining the queue. We have a maximum capacity for processing 500-600 vehicles in 24 hours," she explained.
A Polish lorry driver quoted Tuesday by Poland's TVN24 news channel said it was his fourth day stuck in the huge jam.
Customs and border checks along Poland's eastern border were beefed up on December 21 last year, when the country was one of nine EU newcomers to join the Schengen zone, which comprises 24 European states.
Schengen zone states drop border controls among themselves, but are bound to toughen controls on their borders with non-members.
A Polish Town Fears Russian Retaliation
From: Moscow Times
|One of the camouflaged hangars, as seen from the door of another, at the closed base in Redzikowo that is being considered for the missile defense site.|
The shuttered air base in northern Poland, which dates back to World War II, is a likely site for 10 interceptors for a planned U.S. missile defense program, which Washington says is necessary to counter potential attacks from so-called rogue states.
Poland's new government is sounding increasingly skeptical about the plan, arguing that it won't boost Polish security -- a sentiment echoed throughout the farm country near the Baltic Sea coast, where residents struggle to see any benefits at all.
"If they build the missile defense base here, it'll be a magnet and the first place the Russians will shoot their missiles," said Tadeusz Krajnik, a 55-year-old retired air force technician who lives in one of the brightly colored Communist-era apartment blocks next to the base, which has been sitting closed since 1999.
"Let's tell the truth here, it's not aimed against Iran, or against Vietnam or whatever -- it's against Russia."
The United States has been wrestling with such perceptions of its plan to place 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic since opening negotiations with the two countries early last year.
Washington says the system is needed to protect the United States and Europe from emerging threats from states such as Iran. Russia, however, strongly opposes the plan, arguing that such an installation so close to its territory would threaten its security.
Last year, General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia's missile forces, warned that Moscow could target future bases in Poland and the Czech Republic with Russian missiles.
Residents in Slupsk, a town of 100,000 just five kilometers down the road, are worried, despite assurances from Polish officials that the region will be the nation's safest if it hosts the base.
"I don't like it; if the base gets built, the Russians will fire at us for sure, so we will, in fact, be the most threatened," said Zenon Kuwalko, a 54-year-old engineer from Slupsk.
But part of the local opposition to the base stems from a wider perception in Poland that the country has been left empty-handed for its staunch support for the United States in recent years.
"We have not received any benefits from our cooperation with the Americans so far -- not one thing," said Leszek Pieniak, 48, who owns the Pod Kogutem restaurant near the base. "Not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Poland -- nothing. We don't even have visas. I'll tell my grandchildren that maybe in 20 years they'll have a shot at visa-free travel to the U.S.
"I'm against the base and that's it."
Some local residents say the base -- covering some 400 hectares, with a 2.5-kilometer runway and 28 hangars -- could better serve local interests if it where transformed into a small airport for business and tourism.
"I think that only a civilian airport and the economic development of the region will allow us to overcome unemployment and in the long run create jobs," said Jan Junczyk, 48, a reserve captain in Poland's air force who once flew MiG 23s at the base. "Whereas I think that building the base here will in a sense block off and isolate our region."
Mariusz Chmiel, the county manager for the Slupsk region, which includes Redzikowo, agreed that an airport would help stimulate business and tourism in the area and help cut an unemployment rate that he says hovers above 20 percent.
"From my point of view, it would be better if the base wasn't built here, but I'm aware that if the base is needed for international security, we aren't going to oppose it," Chmiel said.
From: Terminal 3
The song itself is very "Europop" and seems to be following a trend at the moment amongst those that have chosen to have this type of music rather than following in the footsteps of last years winner. Will Belarus go through to the final with this song on May 24th? I am not sure I suppose it depends who else is in the semi final with them and which nation the former Soviet States decide to vote for this year.
All things considered Good Luck to Belarus in Belgrade!
From: cat`s crew from Belarus
На этих выходных решил никуда не ехать, отдохнуть дома.
В воскресение немного поспав с ночи пересеклись с соратником М. и пошли к Лиге, там был концерт. На него мы несобирались, так подойти увидеть кого знакомых. Перед самим входом в зал был бар с билиардом - там мы и засели, взяв по пиво. Нормаль потусили - встретели кучу знакомых. Потом погнали на центр - но там я долго не задержался и повалил домой. Как раз успел на Фубол Хулиганс Интернешинал.
Вчера день проторчал дома за компом. Сидел в инете и смотрел кино.Кстати зарегился на ЛастФМ - можете зафрендить. Ник kudia. Вчера дали зарплату и соратник М. уже вчера рвался на бар, аргементируя свое желаниее старым новым годом. Но решили идти сегодня.
Сегодня с утра домал досмотреть кино и пойти пополнять запасы съестного. Но вырубили свет и пришлось идти сразу. Благодаря чудо-закону о Индивидуальных предпренимателях многие ларьки и магазинчики закрыты, а из тех что работают многие распродают остатки товара. Так что хоть выбирать не приходиться - надо брать что есть.
Вечером валим кадкой на бар отжигать!! А завтра с утра на гражданскую оборону(по состоянию)!!
Вчера сформировали календарь сборной. Начнем с Украиной. http://www.pressball.by/lenta.php?p=1&id=23590
Еще сегодня переводил настроения которые даются на выбор в ЖЖ. Bitchy - это какое, если не секрет?ыыы
Protesters come to the Government’s House, riot policemen in helmets jump out of police trucks
14.20 riot policemen who are ten times more in number than the rally participants are pushing everyone out of the square. Our reporter informs, the whole square looks black because of helmets and uniform. There is still no information about the detained.
14.30 SOBR (special forces) policemen headed by Pauliuchenka have just arrived. They are dispersing the peaceful action.
15.00 Some of the protesters squeezed out from the Independence Square, returned to Kastrychnitskaya Square. There is a big jam near Centralny store on the avenue. Riot policemen are pushing the action participants down the stairs to the underground crossing. There they get into the hands of the other policemen who grab them and take them behind the Palace of the Republic, where the police trucks are located.
Kastrychnitskaya Square is surrounded by riot policemen, three ambulance cars have arrived.
Another peaceful action is violently stifled by the authorities and soon we will start receiving information about the beaten and the detained.
Results of trials over the detained during the entrepreneurs’ action on January 21st .
Centralny and Maskouski courts of Minsk are trying the detained activists and citizens during the entrepreneurs’ rally on January 21st. The list is updated regularly.
Many of the detained have been beaten by policemen in the Central police department. They say they were beaten yesterday in the evening and today in the morning, on the way from the police station to the court. Earlier officers of the Centralny police department did not allow themselves to do that.
1. Vadzim Barouski, Centralny court of Minsk, judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk, fined 700, 000 BYR; article 23.34 of the Administrative Code.
2. Artur Petsko, Maskouski district court of Minsk, article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, 15 days of jail.
3. Viktar Kuklish, Maskouski district court of Minsk, 15 days of jail.
4. Aliaksandar Hrebenchuk, Centralny court of Minsk, judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk, fined 700, 000 BYR, severely beaten in Centralny district court.
5. Mikalai Dzemidzenka, Maskouski district court of Minsk, fined 700, 000 BYR. (information via RFE/RL)
6. Aliaksandar Liublianchyk, Maskouski district court of Minsk, fined 700, 000 BYR. (information via RFE/RL)
7. Valiantsin Sakalouski, Centralny district court of Minsk, fined 700, 000 BYR, and again detained by police and taken back to Centralny police department.
8. Andrei Sauchuk, fined 525, 000 BYR
9. Yury Bakur, Centralny district court, fined 1, 400, 00 BYR.
10. Kanstantsin Balahura, Centralny district court, fined 700, 000 BYR.
11. Ales Krutkin, Maskouski district court Minsk, fined 1, 000, 050 BYR
12. Alina Hladkaya, Maskouski district court of MInsk, fined 1, 000, 050 BYR
13. Tamara Sauchuk, fined 525, 000 BYR
14. Siarhei Shautsou, Maskouski district court of Minsk, 15 days of jail
15. Viktar Buhayeu, Maskouski district court of Minsk, fined 700, 000 BYR
16. Mikhail Subach, Centralny district court of Minsk, judge Pauliuchuk, fined 1, 400, 000 for participation in the action of January 10th and in teh action of January 21st.
17. Andrei Sharenda, Centralny district court of Minsk, fined 1, 750, 000 BYR
18. Aliaksei Bondar, Maskouski district court of Minsk, 5 days of jail.
19. Lilia Subach, Maskouski district court of Minsk, fined 1, 000, 050 BYR
20. Andrei Prasniak, Maskouski district court of Minsk, 10 days of jail
From: Беларуская палітыка
Комментарий на одном из оппозиционных сайтов.Орфография и пунктуация автора сохранены.
Тупое быдло, к которому, без сомнения, могу причислить и себя, торжественно заявляет:
С такими идиотами, как вышепроцитированный товарищ, доблестная белорусская демократическая оппозиция перманентно идет нахуй - вместе с кровавым режимом и Революцией.
В указанном направлении названные личности уходят мелкими группками по полторы тысячи человек. Не далее как вчера первая партия уже отправилась в путь.
Кто не понял, это я о прошедшем накануне внеочередном митинге предпринимателей, горячо поддержанном той самой бел. оппозицией. Что характерно, в сумме и те и другие составили по разным оценкам от одной до двух тысяч человек. Повторяю - в сумме. Итого, получается, НЕбыдлом в синеоком хрустальном сосуде являются приблизительно два человека на десять тысяч. Остальные суть есть "дремучие и тупые" товарищи, перманентно заворачивающие болт на митинги, демонстрации и шествия.
Тем не менее, как считает еще один комментатор с еще одного оппозиционного сайта, "ну прадпрымальнікі на іх нагналі страху! Галоўнае, што гэта ж толькі пачатак." (Орфография и пунктуация автора сохранены). Само собой, завидев вышедшую на площадь толпу, составляющую менее чем 0.02 процента от всего населения республики, кровавый режим в очередной раз пошатнулся и, по некоторым данным, на полчаса даже потерял сознание. К толпе собравшихся на площади Независимости на подкашивающихся ногах, с трясущимися от страха руками вышел лично министр Наумов, но не просто для позырить, а еще и собственноручно навешать люлей протестующим, что, с превеликим удовольствием, он и сделал с помощью рук и ног подшефных ему бойцов специальных подразделений милиции.
В целом, митинг прошел привычно удачно: ни одна из целей не была достигнута, немерянное количество народу не за хер было посажено, диктатура в очередной раз была практически сломлена. Единственным отличем вчерашних демонстраций от предыдущего митинга явилось участие в оном представителей дружественной нашим демократическим силам Украины. Конечно, не совсем понятно, какие дивиденты получат жители соседнего государства от отмены злополучного указа №760, за отмену которого выступали митингующие, но, тем не менее, все равно приятно.
В Гродно объявлена эпидемия гриппа
From: Блог Гродно s13
International grandmaster Aleksei Fedorov takes Belarus’ national chess champion title
The silver medal went to Sergei Zhigalko from Minsk (9 points), the bronze – to Yury Tikhonov (8,5 points). Competing in the championships were 14 players, among them were 7 international grandmasters.
After the championships the Belarusian Chess Federation held an election meeting. Konstantin Ivanov was reelected as chairman.
Sergei Sidorsky: in 2008 Belarus should create 165 thousand new jobs
According to Sergei Sidorsky, the employment programme for 2008 should be closely connected with the programme on innovation development and development of small and medium-scale towns of Belarus. In particular, the employment programme should contain the information about all companies and enterprises, which will be founded in the country in 2008, and the data about specialists, who will be placed in a job there (after graduating from an educational establishment or taking a retraining course).
The Prime Minister stressed the need to resolve the problem connected with the shortage of manpower, especially highly skilled workers, which happened due to the labour outflow. According to him, first of all companies should pay more to these specialists.
Belarus should enhance efficiency of the work on retraining personnel, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets said. In particular, only establishments of higher education should offer retraining courses.
According to First Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko, it is necessary to restore the practice of training workers at the enterprises. “For example, today Minsk Plant of Wheeled Carriers can receive 30-40% more orders. But it needs 800 machine tool operators for this purpose. They can be trained following the pattern “a skilled workman to a pupil”. In this case the company will only have to raise wages of skilled workers,” Vladimir Semashko underlined.
The main goal of the employment programme for 2008 is to enhance efficiency of the use of human resources, Vladimir Potupchik, Minister of Labour and Social Security of Belarus, underlined. The document allows for stepping up measures to more actively address the employment problems, to set relevant tasks and to perform relevant actions. The programme will be financed from the Social Security Fund (Br117.6 billion). Bank loans may be raised as well. About 25% of the money of the Social Security Fund will be spent on stimulating employers to create new jobs.
Having monitored the problems of the regional labour force markets, the Government included 23 small towns in the programme for 2008. A set of concrete measures aimed at easing of tensions in every labour force market will be taken. Special emphasis will be placed on the employment of the disabled, young people and citizens, who were released from jail. Not less than 30% of the unemployed will take vocational training courses for the needs of concrete manufacturers in order to shift the disbalance of labour force demand and supply and to increase the quality of labour resources. Such approach, first of all, will be taken to the employers receiving budget subsidies for creating new jobs.
The Government will continue supporting the unemployed, who want to start their own businesses.
The Presidium of the Council of Ministers took a decision to finalise the draft programme till the end of January. The analogous documents for 2009 and 2010 should be drafted by June-July 2008.