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President believes the border troops have a crucial role to play in boosting the attractiveness of Belarus as a transit country
From: Site of the president
|Report by the State Border Committee|
At the same time, the Head of State said that while ensuring the security of the western border of Belarus, it was inadmissible that, in doing so, any difficulties should be created for economic entities of various countries, including those from the European Union.
“Today, the EU is the second biggest economic partner of Belarus in terms of significance, and economic interests are of utmost importance for us,” said the President. “Besides, we don’t need to expose ourselves to criticism once more on the part of our western partners who say our borders are ‘undemocratic’ and ‘non-transparent’,” he added.
The President believes the border troops have a crucial role to play in boosting the attractiveness of Belarus as a transit country.
Belarus, UAE to discuss human trafficking problem
In a related story, during a meeting with Anwar Mohammad Gargash, the UAE State Minister for Federal National Council Affairs, Sergei Martynov, the Foreign Minister of Belarus, praised the attempts of the United Arab Emirates to intensify the international efforts in counteracting trafficking in people. The talks took place during the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking ended on February 14.
Sergei Martynov offered to join efforts in advancing the idea of the Global Partnership against Slavery and Trafficking in Human Beings and the UN Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, BelTA was told in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. The two sides also agreed upon conducting bilateral consultations.
The UAE representative showed great interest in the activity of the Minsk international center for training personnel in counteracting slave trade. The two countries discussed cooperation areas between non-governmental organizations engaged in combating trafficking in people.
Sergei Martynov also met with Antonio Maria Costa, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The Foreign Minister of Belarus assured that Belarus would continue stepping up international efforts in combating human trafficking. The two sides find it necessary to intensify the activity of the Interagency Coordination Group for Human Trafficking Counteraction.
Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus should counteract Pole Card plan
Belarus should work out specific measures to counteract the Polish intention to use Pole Cards, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told media on February 15.
“The so-called Pole Card initiative of the Polish leadership is an absolutely abnormal step, an attempt to destabilise the situation in the neighbouring state, to split the Polish population in our country,” remarked the President.
He reminded, in its time similar actions taken by Hungary triggered an extremely negative response from European countries. “Where is the reaction now?” wondered the head of state.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and mass media “are too much enthusiastic crying about the bad step taken by Poland”. “We should not cry, we should work out corresponding counteraction measures. We need to survive against competition,” he stressed.
“We are working out these measures. There is nothing new in dual standards used against us,” said the President.
'Political prisoners' issue in Belarus closed, President says
According to the head of state, he, having the constitutional right to do so, took a decision to release the people of whom the West took a stand in support.
“We have made an unprecedented step of good will, and now will watch what the response of the EU and USA will be,” the President said. “I advise our people to watch the reaction of the West: This will show if they [the West] are ready for reciprocal steps.”
Alexander Lukashenko said that his decision was general and principled. He added that the so-called political prisoners had been punished in conformance with the Belarusian criminal laws. “The Criminal Code does not have any ‘political articles’,” he stressed. “Apparently this is how they understand democracy in the West: you can’t interfere in the work of the judicial system in your own country, while in other countries you can,” the President said.
“As far as I have been informed, it was only Kozulin who was not happy with this situation. The fact was that his wife was ill. The ambassadors of the European Union approached me, saying the wife’s health was deteriorating. Ok, we are all humans, anything happens in life. I consented – let him take his wife for treatment. We helped her as much as we could; offered her treatment in Germany. Her husband was to accompany her to Germany. But, as far as I have been informed to date, Kozulin has refused from having her treated. However, this is a family problem and I do not want to interfere,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko: state will support high-tech manufacturing
The head of state commended the Vityas administration for diversifying the production business. “Setting up additional manufacturing facilities with a view to preserving the production of principal television products is the right thing,” he remarked. The near future belongs to the development of digital technologies.
Alexander Lukashenko stressed, if the domestic production of TV sets is not preserved, Belarus will have to import them soon. Meanwhile, Belarusian TV makers are in the world’s top ten of the largest TV manufacturers.
According to the President, supporting the domestic production of TV sets has nothing to do with preserving and creating jobs. “We should keep the high intellectual potential of the economy and the Belarusian nation. Which is why we are and will be so persistent in supporting TV makers,” explained the head of state.
He remarked, “The days of free stuff for Horizont and Vityas are over. They have to think how they can live without the state teat on their own. The state support will be provided only for paying projects and the money has to be returned. Money will not be given away for the sake of it except for some know-how”.
Alexander Lukashenko reminded, once the Vitebsk TV maker had promised to start up their own production of DVDs and they had managed to do it within a year. The head of state thanked the company for good job and stressed Horizont could learn something from Vityas.
Belarus to up heat and energy tariffs from April 1
From January 1, 2008 the Energy Ministry increased rates for electric energy by 0.9% and by 1.36% for heat energy. The price growth for gas delivered to the country upped much greater. As a result the energy area faced deficit of Br660 billion.
“We will see how the economy of the country will work in the first quarter and, probably, will increase energy tariffs,” the First Vice-Premier said. In his words, for the production sector tariffs for electric energy can jump 5% from April 1, 2008. Tariffs for heat energy can also increase.
Vladimir Semashko did not rule out that energy tariffs for individuals will go up as well.
In 2008, Belarus plans to attract Br34.5 trillion of investment
In 2008, Belarus is set to attract Br34.494 trillion of capital investment. This goal is set in Resolution No 178 of the Council of Ministers.
As BelTA was told in the Council of Ministers’ Office, more than Br13 trillion will be attracted into the real production sector. The targets by industry are as follows: Belneftekhim - Br3365.2 billion, Energy Ministry - Br2043.1 billion, Industry Ministry - Br1717.4 billion, Transport Ministry - Br1602.5 billion, Ministry of Agriculture and Foodstuffs - Br1162.3 billion, Ministry of Architecture and Construction - Br1121.7 billion, Communications Ministry - Br583.8 billion.
In 2008, Belarus is planning to attract $2.7 billion of foreign credits and direct investments. Most important investment projects in 2008 include 78 projects to the tune of Br2.1 trillion.
Investment credits including foreign credit resources are projected at Br5.5 trillion.
Belarus’ banks to increase investment loans up to Br5.5 trillion in 2008
In line with governmental resolution #178, the Belarusian banks are expected to lend Br5.5 trillion to the real production sector in 2008, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.
Banks are recommended to finance the most important investment projects of 2008. Thus, Belarusbank is projected to lend Br2.4 trillion, Belagroprombank – Br900 billion, BPS-Bank – Br705 billion, Belinvestbank – Br630 billion.
In line with the monetary policy guidelines of Belarus for 2008, corporate loan portfolio of Belarusian banks is expected to increase by 36-41% over 2007.
Austria pays compensations to 4300 Nazism victims in Belarus
Diplomas were bestowed upon Richard Wotava, the Secretary General of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, Ludwig Steiner, the Chairman of the Committee of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund, and Herbert Grubmayer, the head of the group for CIS spot-check of the Austrian Reconciliation Fund. Sergei Martynov thanked the Austrian side for considerable contribution to the implementation of the programme on compensatory payments to Belarusian people involved in forced labour on the territory of Austria during the WWII.
The Belarusian-Austrian intergovernmental agreement on compensatory payments was signed on October 24, 2000. According to the Belarusian National Fund “Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation”, the Austrian side paid compensations over 9.3 million of euro to Belarusian citizens. The Belarusian National Fund also received 1.28 million of euro to implement a humanitarian project to provide Nazism victims with target aid.
Belarusian opposition leader released from prison in what president calls gesture to the West
Andrei Klimov, a former lawmaker who was sentenced to two years in prison in September on charges of insulting the president, was the latest of several opposition figures to be freed from custody in Belarus.
"We have made an unprecedented step of goodwill, now let's see how the European Union and the United States will respond to that," President Alexander Lukashenko said, referring to the release of several opposition activists since the start of the year.
The United States and the EU have imposed sanctions against Belarus, urging Lukashenko to free all political prisoners and allow more democratic freedoms before sanctions can be eased and relations normalized. Lukashenko, who is described in the West as "Europe's last dictator," has stifled dissent and independent media during his 13 years in power.
Klimov said after his release that he would continue his "fight for democracy in Belarus." "I'm thankful not to dictator Lukashenko, but to the EU nations and the United States which exerted pressure on the Belarusian leader," he said.
Several other prominent opposition activists, including Alexander Kozulin, who challenged Lukashenko in the 2006 election, still remain in custody.
Lukashenko began signaling a desire for better relations with the West after Russia's decision to sharply hike prices for oil exports to Belarus — exports on which the country's Soviet-style, centrally controlled economy had long depended.
Wife describes conditions on which Lukashenka offered to release Kazulin as unacceptable
“I would like to hear the conditions on which Lukashenka offered to free Alyaksandr,” she writes in an open letter posted on the politician’s Web site. “The things that his [Lukashenka’s] messenger told us were unacceptable. That would be a disgracefull flight from the country.”
“This disdain for our family has touched a raw nerve,” Mrs. Kazulin writes. “Although I sometimes feel that nothing of this kind can unsettle me, I’m shocked by Lukashenka’s cynicism. My husband says in his letters that his greatest pain and concern is me. He begins every morning with a prayer for my health.”
“My children, all our relatives and I understand Alyaksandr, support and love him and look forward to his unconditional release,” writes Mrs. Kazulin, 48, who is seriously ill with cancer.
She notes that her daughters, Yuliya and Volha, visited their father in prison on February 13 not to urge him to “save Mom” but to “discuss the current situation.”
During his trip to the Vitsyebsk region on Friday, Mr. Lukashenka said that the political prisoners issue was closed, as he had decided to free the people whose release the “West and the USA had been standing up for.”
Mr. Lukashenka insisted that he had offered Dr. Kazulin to accompany his wife to Germany for medical treatment.
“European Union ambassadors appealed to me, saying that the state of his wife had deteriorated,” he said. “OK, we all are human and anything can happen in life. I agreed for him to take his wife [to Germany] for treatment. We helped her as far as we could, offered her treatment in Germany. But, as far as I’ve been informed today, Kazulin refused her treatment…. I offered what was required of me, but he refused even after his own daughters visited him to talk him over, ‘Help save Mom!’ This is their concern. Life will put everything in its proper place.”
Dr. Kazulin, rector of Belarusian State University between 1996 and 2003 who was a candidate in Belarus' 2006 presidential election, was arrested during a police crackdown on a peaceful post-election opposition demonstration on March 25, 2006. On July 13, he was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in a minimum security correctional institution. He was found guilty of two counts of hooliganism under Part 2 of the Criminal Code's Article 339 that penalizes "deliberate actions violating flagrantly the public order… accompanied by the use of violence and the destruction of others' property," and of the "organization of and active participation in group actions disturbing the public peace accompanied by explicit resistance to lawful demands by government officials, which have caused disruptions in traffic and the operation of enterprises," Article 342.
According to a survey conducted by the Vilnius-based Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies in May 2007, 34.9 percent of Belarusians believed that Dr. Kazulin was sent to prison on political motives and should be released.
Amnesty International has declared Dr. Kazulin a prisoner of conscience.
He has been held in the Vitsba 3 correctional facility near Vitsyebsk since September 21, 2006.
In March 2007, Dr. Kazulin was reelected in absentia as chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada.”
Bombardier jet flips during takeoff
From: Star.com and A+
Of the 18 passengers and three crew aboard, 10 were taken to hospital, but none of their injuries appeared to be life-threatening, an airport spokesperson said.
5 passengers of the plane, which was carrying out Yerevan-Minsk flight from “Zvartnots” airport in Yerevan, were taken to “Armenia” medical center. As Arthur Safaryan, the head of the reception of the “Armenia” medical center and “Ambulance” service informed “A1+”, the state of the injured was stable, but they were in heavy psychological stress.
51 year-old Spartak Vardan, 55-year-old Yepraksia Yeremyan, Rima Hovhannisyan, 22-year-old Albert Kirakosyan and Yeritsyan Stepan got concussions of the brain; 24-year-old Sanasar Manukyan injured his face, 60-year-old Suren Yeremyan got clavicle dislocation.
We should remind, that today early in the morning the plane belonging to “BelAvia” Company caught fire in “Zvartnots” airport when the plane was on the way to fly. 3 staff members of the plane and 18 passengers were on the plane. 11 passengers got various corporal injures and were taken to “Malatia” medical center. 6 of them were discharged from the hospital receiving first medical aid and 5 injured passengers were moved to “Armenia” medical center. “Zvartnots” airport was opened at 11 a.m.. But before that Amsterdam-Yerevan and Samara-Yerevan flights made the landings in Gyumri.
A special committee is set up to investigate and to publish the reasons of the fire.
The 50-seat CRJ100, owned by Belarus's state airline, Belavia, was headed for Minsk, Belarus, when it crashed on the runway at Zvartnots Airport, said Avtiom Movsesian, head of Armenia's civil aviation authority.
Belavia acquired the nine-year-old aircraft last February. More than 1,000 of the aircraft have been delivered since they went into service in the early 1990s, said Marc Duchesne, a spokesperson for Bombardier in Montreal.
"I don't recall any similar events with this aircraft," he said.
Last year, Scandinavian Airlines permanently grounded its fleet of 27 Bombardier Dash 8 Q-400 aircraft after suffering three landing accidents over a seven-week period. It blamed faulty landing gear for the accidents.
Bombardier stood behind the landing gear's design and a subsequent investigation by the European Aviation Safety Agency into one of the crashes found the malfunction was not due to a design error.
Hugo Chavez cancels visit to Belarus
“At the moment, the embassy has no information as to when the visit will take place,” the officer said.
Dias Nunes, the Venezuelan charge d’affaires in Minsk, had said that Mr. Chavez would come to Belarus in March.
Mr. Chavez visited Belarus in July 2006 and June 2007. A visit that Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid to Venezuela in December 2007 resulted in the signing of a number of bilateral cooperation agreements, including an agreement on military technical cooperation.
While in the Venezuelan province of Anzoategui, the two leaders took part in a ceremony marking the establishment of a Venezuelan-Belarusian oil production enterprise. They also attended the signing of interstate agreements on the development of trade and economic relations, on the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of income and property tax evasion, on the mutual protection and encouragement of investments, on cooperation in crime prevention, on cooperation in education and scientific research, on visa free travel, and on cooperation in the cultural sphere.
A cooperation agreement was also signed between the finance ministries.
A contract was signed for Belarusian organizations to design and build a residential development of 5,000 apartments in the Venezuelan state of Aragua.
The meeting will discuss climate and energy issues under the overall theme of ''the role of politicians in times of change''. Høybråten, who is in charge of the Nordic Council's work in relation to Belarus, met the heads of the country's parliament and leaders of opposition parties away from the parliament during a visit to Minsk.
"We have created a unique arena in which parliamentarians and the opposition will be able to meet face to face. The Nordic Council has been promoting democracy in the Baltic countries for many years. We hope now to be able to lend a hand in other countries nearby. The dream is to see Belarus included in the European family represented by the Council of Europe and based on the principles of the European Convention of Human Rights," he explained.
Commerzbank may take majority stake in Belarus's Belinvestbank - report
'Though this purchase by no means a certainty, the German bank is expressing cautious optimism,' the source said.
'If there will be a purchase, then Commerzbank expects to receive a controlling packet.'
Belinvestbank head Alexander Rutkovksy confirmed to Interfax that negotiations had been under way, without providing further details.
A Commerzbank spokesman declined to comment.
The Russian new agency report also said that Belinvestbank and three other state-owned banks may not be sold until 2011.
Holocaust Memorial Set on Fire in Belarus
From: Union of Councils for Jews
STUDY FINDS RUSSIAN TEXTBOOKS ANTISEMITIC.
In a realated story, a joint study by the prestigious Russian Academy of Sciences and the Russian Jewish Congress found many Russian textbooks antisemitic, according to a February 13 report by the Russian Jewish web site Jewish.ru. Aleksandr Lokshin, the study’s lead author, reported that many history textbooks avoid the subject of the Holocaust despite the fact that the Nazis and their collaborators killed millions of Soviet Jews. Nor did a single textbook discuss the "doctor's plot" which Stalin planned to use as a pretext for massive repression against Jews; nor were pogroms during the Civil War mentioned.
One textbook reportedly dramatically undercounted the number of Jews in the Russian empire in the 19th century, putting their number at only 175,000. Another textbook accuses Jews of having hostile attitudes toward others in the Tsarist empire. The researchers were unable to find a single textbook that adequately assesses the role of Jews in Russian history, and they plan to ask the Ministry of Education to review their recommendations.
Address to soldiers-internationalists, veterans of the war in Afghanistan
From: The office of the president
Today, following the tradition, the Day of Remembrance of soldiers-internationalists is celebrated, mass meetings are being held and requiem masses are taking place in temples.
Away from their Homeland, Soviet soldiers, of whom many were our compatriots, displayed valour and selflessness, faced danger with courage, came to know the real price of a human life.
The bitter grief for the fallen is always there in our hearts. Hundreds of Belarusians never returned home from Afghanistan. We bow our heads before the blessed memory of our countrymen and will never let diminish the significance of their heroic serving the people.
Soldiers-internationalists – patriots, successors of the veterans of the Great Patriotic War, people who are devoted to high ideals and who are strong in spirit – demonstrate their commitment to goodness and justice in their peaceful and military toil, their integrity.
I wish you, your relatives and beloved ones peaceful skies, good health, happiness and new achievements in your work for the benefit of our dear Belarus.
Political Heir Is Less Rosy Than Putin on the State of Russia
Dmitri A. Medvedev met with reporters at a business forum in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Friday.
The speech by the candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, was a contrast to the public appearance only a day before by Mr. Putin, his sponsor. Mr. Putin was confrontational and sometimes caustic in what the Kremlin had billed as his final news conference as president.
On Thursday, Mr. Putin had sharply criticized the West and the United States, threatened to aim strategic missiles at Europe and said Russia would continue to develop its own, state-centered brand of democracy without instruction from outside.
Mr. Medvedev, speaking in Krasnoyarsk, a city near Russia’s geographic center, spoke in softer tones, addressing Russia’s middle class and small-business owners and embracing themes more often heard in the West.
“Freedom is better than nonfreedom,” he said in his opening remarks, according to a transcript provided by his campaign. “These words are the quintessence of human experience.”
Mr. Medvedev, the 42-year-old protégé of Mr. Putin, then elaborated. “The talk here is about freedom in all of its manifestations: about personal freedom, about economic freedom and at last about freedom of self-expression,” he said. He added, “Freedom is inseparable from the actual recognition of the power of law by citizens.”
He is the all-but-unchallenged front-runner in the presidential election set for March 2. He seems certain to inherit the formal reins of power from a president who, his critics say, has extinguished many elements of personal and political freedom in Russia and rolled others back.
Mr. Medvedev faces three weak candidates who critics of the Kremlin say have been allowed to run by Mr. Putin only to create the appearance of a contest. A poll released Friday predicted that Mr. Medvedev, who has been endorsed by Mr. Putin and was receiving lavish official support, could win as much as 80 percent of the vote.
The declarations about the universal values of freedom in an election that is being stage-managed, and in a speech before state journalists who are largely under the Kremlin’s sway, immediately raised eyebrows among analysts and diplomats in the West.
But Mr. Medvedev pressed on, issuing an implicit and broad indictment of Russia’s current state of civic affairs. He moved past the economic and political successes of Mr. Putin’s eight years in power and focused on the country’s deep and enduring problems.
The courts, he said, are riddled with corruption, the state bureaucracy is weighted by indifference, predatory officials and bloat, and Russia’s business climate has been smothered.
“It is necessary to change radically the ideology of administrative procedures dealing with starting and holding a business,” he said. An overhaul was required, he added, “to give realistic chances for the development of small businesses, which are drowning today in a swamp of official indifference and bribes.”
Some of Mr. Medvedev’s assessment echoed statements by Mr. Putin, including his denunciation of official corruption. But his picture of Russian society and its government veered from the rosier account provided by Mr. Putin at his final press conference before leaving office.
Mr. Putin had said, coolly and directly, that his administration had had no major failures during his two terms.
Western diplomats suggested that Mr. Medvedev’s speech should not be taken entirely at face value.
Under Russia’s Constitution, Mr. Putin cannot seek a third consecutive term. Mr. Medvedev is Mr. Putin’s personally selected successor, and Mr. Putin has said that he will serve as Mr. Medvedev’s prime minister and plans to wield power and to influence Russia’s course for years to come.
“Medvedev in this speech and in previous speeches has been enunciating liberal themes, and that’s encouraging,” said Cliff Kupchan, a director at the Eurasia Group, a global risk consulting firm based in Washington and New York.
“But we have to remember that this entire campaign is being run by Putin, and Putinism, broadly meaning a large state role in the economy and an assertive foreign policy, is not going to change soon, because Putin is not going to leave the scene.”
Mr. Kupchan suggested that Mr. Medvedev’s candidacy, and the message of his platform, had been chosen by Mr. Putin and the Kremlin’s political elite because improving Russia’s reputation suited their needs.
“An image is being created for Mr. Medvedev that will smooth the way for Russian investors to invest abroad,” he said. “That is very important to the Kremlin.”
But Mr. Medvedev’s speech also seemed tuned to the ears of Russia’s expanding consumer class, which has seen its purchasing power and standard of living rise during the oil-and-gas boom that has buoyed Mr. Putin’s years in power, but has seen its political rights decline and still faced an ossified government bureaucracy.
He pledged to improve the investment environment, amend the country’s tax codes, and work to stabilize the ruble, whose value has crashed and risen since Soviet times — first evaporating many citizens’ savings and recently spurring inflation and causing unease about escalating costs of living.
He said as well that “our schools would have the opportunity not to have one computer for 20 students,” but Internet access at every desk.
And he warned, with candor, that the boom in Moscow and other population centers had not reached many Russians — a theme Mr. Putin has also noted.
Mr. Medvedev, like his sponsor, outlined a need for more attention to social programs and health care. “Part of the population is practically still socially comatose,” he said. “They see neither opportunities nor prospects of improvement of their living standards. Hence, the drunkenness and a still very high level of suicide.”
A senior American diplomat noted that Mr. Putin, early in his presidency, had pledged to make the country more democratic and to fulfill a broad agenda of social goals. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity as part of diplomatic protocol, added that it was much too soon to know whether Mr. Medvedev would even have the power as president to choose his own course, much less to realize the goals he had articulated in his speech.
“If you go back and look at early Putin, I would argue that you could find that Putin said a number of things that were promising,” he said. “On a number of elements he came up rather short.”
EU boosts Russia's WTO bid
From: The Star
"Frankly, we want to see Russia in the WTO, it's the largest economy of its size and importance outside of the organization," Mandelson said yesterday following talks in Moscow with Russia's finance minister and top trade officials.
"There are substantial benefits both for Russia and its trading partners to see Russia in the WTO."
The EU's trade commissioner told Reuters that "a handful of bilateral matters" are still to be resolved.
The main outstanding problem is a deal on timber export tariffs, which have hit Finnish wood processors that rely on imported Russian timber. Mandelson also wants Russia to implement a deal on Siberian overflight fees for EU carriers flying over Russia to Asia.
Russia and Ukraine negotiate solution to gas dispute
From: Kiev Post
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, said they negotiated a settlement of Ukraine's debt and agreed on terms for gas supplies later this year.
"We have agreed that Ukraine will start paying off the debt starting Thursday," Yushchenko said at a news conference after the Kremlin talks, which lasted for four hours.
Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, said Ukraine owes $1.5 billion for gas. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko acknowledged Monday that Ukraine had a gas debt, but gave the lower figure of $1.07 billion.
Yushchenko said the two sides also agreed that Ukraine would pay the current price of $179 per 1,000 cubic meters through the year's end.
Putin said Gazprom was satisfied with the Ukrainian proposals on settling the gas debt. Formal agreements will be signed within the next few days, he said.
"We hope that all agreements will be fulfilled," he said.
OAO Gazprom had threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine starting at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) Tuesday if an agreement was not reached. The prospect raised concerns in European Union nations, which experienced disruptions in gas supplies transiting Ukraine during a similar cutoff in January 2006.
Tymoshenko pointed out that Ukraine's debt is owed to RosUkrEnergo, a middleman company half-owned by Gazprom, from which Ukraine buys all its imported gas. She has pledged to get rid of the middleman, which she says fosters corruption.
Yushchenko said after the talks that the two countries agreed to set up a working group to discuss ways to streamline their gas trade.
Oleh Dubina, the head of Ukraine's natural gas company Naftogaz, told reporters that Gazprom will directly supply gas to Naftogaz.
Ukraine mostly buys Central Asian gas, which it gets through Gazprom-controlled pipelines crossing Russia. However, it was forced to buy additional Russian gas in recent months because an unusually cold winter in Central Asia reduced supplies.
Anti Polish website created in Iceland
From: The News
He calls his fellow countrymen to get rid of Poles while there is still time.
Three days after creating the site, the boy had received the support of 700 other teenagers. The messages in their posts is clear: kick Poles out of Iceland.
The case has received massive media coverage in Reykjavik and is now sparkling heated debates all over Iceland. Some posts on the web site’s forum are so offensive that the police intend to start an investigation.
"A xenophobic mood is on the rise in Iceland. The number of immigrants is skyrocketing, which makes native inhabitants uneasy and confused", says Einar Skulason, head of the Intercultural Centre in Reykjavik, quoted in Rzeczpospolita.
"They vent their frustration on Poles, as they are the most numerous immigrant group. Furthermore, a negative image of Poles is boosted by the media, which highlight crimes committed by Poles,” says Skulason.
Currently, the population of Iceland is just over 300,000.
Former Polish MP posts anti-Semitic video on YouTube
"Longinus Zerwimycka", the new video by Leszek Bubel, which critics say is abundant in anti-Semitic content, has caused widespread outrage among the Jewish community in Poland. The video can be seen on YouTube, as well as on Leszek Bubel's Polish National Party (PPN) website.
"This is anti-Semitism in its most pathetic form. We will not take legal action, as we do not want to make fools of ourselves", said Piotr Kadlcik, head of the Association of Jewish Communes in Poland, quoted by "Rzeczpospolita".
Bubel has already been accused of anti-Semitic remarks. Two years ago he was fined 5,000 zlotys for slandering the Jewish nation by a Warsaw court.
Palikot presidential smear case dropped
From: The News
The spokesperson for the circuit prosecutor's office in Lublin, Beata Syk-Janowska, has announced that the office had declined to investigate into the case as "there is a lack of public interest in prosecuting this deed by private indictment ".
Palikot had addressed the question of Lech Kaczynski's alleged ‘alcohol problem’, wondering whether his frequent visits to the hospital were related to his ‘detox therapies’.
A couple of days after posting these statements on his blog, MP Palikot apologized to the President.
Entrepreneurs ready pitch tents on October Square
From: Charter '97
“Individual entrepreneurs are the only category of citizens paying taxes in advance. Moreover, we pay taxes by euro, so tax burden has increased by 20 per cent due to the year’s rate growth. At the same time the head of state is insulting thousands of his citizens, who pay taxes regularly and create workplaces. Who in the world can say such things and remain in power?” one of the leaders of the entrepreneurs’ movement puts a rhetoric question.
According to him, having refused to discuss the issue with all the parties interested in, the authorities didn’t leave any choice for entrepreneurs except asserting their rights by means of street actions. “So, we are going to come to October Square on 18 February, and pitch tents there. Of course, we don’t count many people will be brave enough to do it in the intimidated by the authorities society, but the main thing is consolidation of the society and solidarity, we hope for. We should act together to win,” Makaeu is sure.
The leader of the entrepreneurs’ movement added the authorities didn’t weaken pressure on entrepreneurs. As an example he told about Mikola Charnavus, entrepreneur from Baranavichy, member of the coordinating council of the Baranavichy cooperative market.
Mikola Charnavus was called to the local militia department after demonstration of 300 entrepreneurs was held in Baranavichy on 11 February. A report on “organisation of unauthorised street event” was drawn up against him. The trial was scheduled for 22 February, but M. Charnavus has received a summons today saying the trial is put forward to 18 February, 9.00am, when the action of entrepreneurs is to be held.
At the rally in Baranavichy entrepreneurs required taxes and rent charge to be half reduced and the decree 760, in particular its paragraph 1.1, according to which they can employ only close relatives since 1 January, 2008, to be cancelled. “If the authorities don’t take any measures, we reserve the right to go to protest action on 18 February. If they don’t hear us on that day, we’ll go to October Square on 25 March with sleeping bags and tents. Daily allowance and food will be provided, “Mikola Charnavus said.
Rough Waves; Belarusians eager for independent news and entertainment are chafing as foreign media donors bicker.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in Belarus, especially in radio and television broadcasting beamed from abroad to provide an alternative to state propaganda. And no government has been a case study of how a single-minded approach to media assistance can scuttle the best of intentions more than Poland’s.
Now, however, Warsaw has a chance to set things right and help make a real difference in the availability of alternative information in Belarus.
The current situation finds Poland as the major funder of two stations broadcasting into Belarus. But Poland faces the ire of other donors and governments after its failure to assist in broadening the reach of an international project also based within its borders: the European Radio for Belarus (ERB).
ERB’s origins date back to 2004. As Belarusians felt the sting of yet another crackdown on the opposition and independent print media, donor organizations started to speak again of a concerted effort to fund independent radio news broadcasts. Initially, the ERB team consisted of Belarusians and ethnic Belarusian Poles who had been a part of the short-lived Radio Racja, an international project that had united the donors and received key assistance from the Polish government in the start-up phase. The station broadcast to Belarus and to the Belarusian minority in Poland from 1998 to 2002 before running out of money.
Intending to set up shop quickly in time for the presidential elections in the spring of 2006, the Belarusian part of the team hoped to restore the existing name, license, and frequency of Racja in Poland. But the majority shareholder of Racja, the ethnic Belarusians in the Polish city of Bialystok, wanted to wait for the results of the Polish parliamentary elections of October 2005.
Tired of the inactivity, the team of journalists from Belarus registered its own non-profit organization, ERB, in Warsaw and has since attracted multiple donors (the European Union and a gaggle of embassies and government-linked donor agencies from the United States, the Czech Republic, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden).
This has meant that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka cannot single out the station as the work of any one country.
In the meantime, the Law and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski triumphed in the Polish elections and soon decided to fund its own project, a second incarnation of Radio Racja. The station resumed broadcasting in 2006 on a small FM transmitter covering Bialystok and on medium wave into Belarus, again with a team of Polish Belarusians and some Belarusian journalists.
Many saw the decision as a way for the party to ingratiate itself among the politically active Belarusian minority in Poland, as well as a response to criticism at home and abroad that the previous government had been too cautious on Belarus. However, just as the Kaczynski government irked many in the international community (especially in Brussels) with its heavy-handed and often parochial approach, so did donors and those working in media development soon tire of hearing the Poles talk about their pet project and their “special expertise” on Belarus.
The lack of interest in cooperating on Belarus-targeted media projects has had real repercussions. In the summer of 2007, Polish authorities awarded Radio Racja 24-hour use of an FM frequency with the potential to reach the Grodno region in Belarus. The transmitter, however, is relatively weak, and Racja apparently doesn’t have the cash to invest in an upgrade, thus underutilizing the potential of the frequency.
ERB and several of the countries backing it have suggested sharing the frequency and contributing toward building a new transmission tower to cover more Belarusian territory. But under the Kaczynski government, those proposals consistently hit a wall of intransigence.
That was particularly a shame because the government agencies and private organizations working on media development in Belarus have come a long way toward coordinating their assistance, precisely to avoid overlapping projects and the mistakes of the past (including a number of expensive, ineffective EU-supported initiatives). The urgency of a united approach is also illustrated by the fact that less than 30 registered independent print publications are now operating in Belarus.
The offer to share the frequency may also have been misinterpreted as a competitive threat to Racja’s very existence. However, few have argued that one station should be funded to the detriment of others. After all, the target groups of all these foreign-funded stations differ considerably.
The widely respected Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Svoboda, traditionally has appealed to an older clientele, feeding a strong diet of news and commentary to those already democratically inclined. While Racja does have some ambitions to serve a Belarusian audience in Belarus proper, its main audience has always been their ethnic kin in Poland. ERB’s intentions are elsewhere: to use music and entertainment as a “hook” to attract the under-35 generation in Belarus to more serious content.
Though donor-funded entertainment programming has drawn ire elsewhere in the world (see, for example, criticism of some U.S.-government funded stations in the Middle East), the strategy seems sound for Belarus, especially with its Internet-savvy young people who are probably more likely to get their radio via the Internet than normal stations anyway. This focus also seems the best bet for making such a station commercially viable in the future, whether abroad or one day (hopefully) in Minsk.
ERB does, however, need to do a better job of getting the word out about its existence in the areas where it can be picked up. Too many people in the border regions have been left in the dark. The team in Warsaw has had its hands full with 24 hours of broadcasting on the Internet and satellite, but it needs to spend more time on promotion and marketing.
Even after several years, the station doesn’t have a Belarusian-language brochure promoting its activities. And hard negotiations and technical challenges remain to secure the rights to broadcast from additional spots in other countries that neighbor Belarus.
DIVIDED, THEY’LL FALL
Just as important to the talks on radio is a less overt quid pro quo: if the Poles compromise on ERB, then the United States will be much more likely to become a major donor of BelSat, another Polish initiative, and one whose funding (around $7 million) dwarfs that of Radio Racja.
Only a few months old, the satellite television channel will need all the help it can get. Sure, as in most countries of the former Soviet Union, television continues to hold a powerful influence, and the idea of a truly independent Belarusian channel is tempting. But only around 7 percent of citizens have satellite dishes, and even then, most dishes need to be adjusted to receive the correct signal from a less popular satellite.
Plus, in big cities, cable TV is more popular and a cheaper solution than purchasing a dish. Some critics have also called the programming dull and rather old-school, with traditional talking-head shows unlikely to attract a young audience. Those realities have led some to joke that more people view BelSat on YouTube than on their television sets.
Yet any judgment would be premature at this early stage. ERB, like any new station, has improved greatly from its modest beginnings, and recent additions of more experienced journalists have improved the content even more.
Luckily, the current Polish government seems ready to make a deal and is apparently unwilling to be saddled with supporting two media projects largely on its own (there is already talk of cutting the budgets of Racja and BelSat by half). Top officials – more internationalist, pro-Euro-Atlantic, and conciliatory than their predecessors – appear to see the value of compromise and the need to share the bulk of their initiatives’ funding with others.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope new Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s government will see the wisdom of compromise. The logic seems plain enough: work together and see two quality radio stations with an increased reach into Belarus, as well as a television station with enough time and money to work out the kinks and develop a clear concept.
Or work apart and see the plugs probably pulled on two out of the three – the two being the Polish pet projects.
Polish immigration causes Icelander xenophobia?
From: The Beatroot
In three days the embryonic Icelandic race warrior gained 700 teenage members on his forum, calling for Poles to ‘get out’. And much worse.
It got so bad, says the newspaper, that the police were brought in to investigate.
“A xenophobic mood is on the rise in Iceland. The number of immigrants is skyrocketing, which makes native inhabitants uneasy and confused,” says Einar Skulason, of the Intercultural Centre in Reykjavik.
Uneasy, confused, racist Icelanders on the march! Eek!
In January 2008, claims wikpedia, Iceland had a population of just 313.736. Not really very many Icelanders, are there? But 12,000 Poles have migrated in - which, as a proportion of not a lot, is quite a lot. And maybe Iceland is rather large for a population so small, but most Icelanders live in the capital (it’s probably warmer to stay close) so Poles are perhaps fighting for a small space, for a small amount of jobs, and for a small amount of light hours.
Or maybe not.
An Icelandic source has contacted me – rootlets spread everywhere – saying that the Rzeczpospolita story is out of date. The anti-Polish ‘association’ that the kid founded is no more, after feeling the full force of Icelandic censorship. Icelanders, you see, are sensitive, Scandinavian types, who would not be so crude to rise, en mass, to xenophobic temptation.
The source says that there is no more negative feeling against Poles than there is in ‘any other country.’ I believe him.
And a well-known Icelandic pop star, popular with the kids, has organized a concert to ‘fight against racism and xenophobia’. Good.
The singer has - oddly in my opinion - ‘[...] challenged the prime minister of Iceland, who is half-Norwegian, to sing a song in support of anti-racism’[!].
That’s a brilliant way to protest. Ask the prime minister to sing!
I know a journalist who once asked Polish prime minister Donald Tusk to say something in English about his Kashub roots. He refused. But he did, endearingly, sing him a song in Kashubian! Which was nice.
But other postulates could be made by a new political movement demanding elected leaders belt out a tune. Bush should be made to sing ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’ while dressed up as Dolly Parton. Putin could sing 'These Boots are Made for Walking....'
And ex-PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski could be asked to repeat his barn storming performance of the Polish national anthem, where he demonstrates that he has clearly no future in the music business.
The fact that there are anti-racist movements appearing in Iceland does tend to suggest that there are racist sentiments there. Which is sad. Icelanders are one of the most inoffensive people in the world. I can’t imagine Bjork in jackboots. On the other hand...
Teachers Forced to Join Pro-governmental Party
On 11 February the teachers were given filled in application forms. They needed just to sign them. The head master said to them: ‘Either you sign the application forms party, or I’ll sign the orders your dismissal.’
As the site www.ucpb.org informs, only a history teacher refused to join the pro-governmental party. She is a young teacher, who is working her compulsory term after university. Probably, she hoped for dismissal.
The school staff supposes Uladzimir Savitski was told to ‘swear allegiance’ ahead of election to the House of Representatives. He probably was promised to be given a deputy mandate if all teachers of his school joined Belaya Rus.
By the way, the head master of Hutsuki secondary school prepared filled in application forms for the Belaya Rus party for teachers. Teachers of kindergarten from the village Vezha have already become members of the Belaya Rus.
Valuev earns title shot with one-sided win in battle of former champions
From: canadian press
The seven-foot Russian, in one of his best performances, effectively used his left jab from the opening seconds to subdue the smaller fighter in the WBA eliminator bout.
Valuev, who improved to 48-1, won 120-108 on two of the judges' scorecards and 120-107 on the other to earn a rematch against Ruslan Chagaev, the first to beat the Russian as a pro and who took away his WBA belt in April.
"I'm looking forward to the fight. Ruslan Chagaev, we'll see each other soon," Valuev said.
Valuev's lopsided decision came against the Belarussian who knocked out Lamon Brewster in a bruising battle to win the WBO title. Liakhovich (23-3) lost his title two years against Shannon Briggs on a last-second knockout despite leading on points.
Valuev, who was the tallest champion of all time, repeatedly scored with the jab, partially closing Liakhovich's left eye.
"Do you want us to quit?" Liakhovich's trainer Tommy Brooks yelled after the eighth round. "We don't have much choice if you keep standing in front of this guy."
The 34-year-old Valuev also rocked Liakhovich with hard rights several times. Never known for his mobility or boxing skill, he even threw flurries of combinations at several points.
"I did it better than before. I think we have changed a lot of things," said Valuev, who has a new trainer.
The win thrusts the Russian back into the heavyweight picture, where several unification fights are expected.
Valuev will face a tougher test against Chagaev, a quick fighter who forced him to trade punches in their last bout.
Liakhovich, nine inches shorter, appeared simply overwhelmed by Valuev's size.
"He knew how to use his advantages," Liakhovich said. "I didn't have any answers. It wasn't my day."
Belarus' Kushnir wins men's aerials at World Cup
Kushnir nailed a pair of quadruple-twisting, triple back flips to win the event with a score of 249.31 points.
Canadian Steve Omischl came second with 242.58 while Ryan St. Onge of the United States was third with 241.87.
In the women's aerial action, 35-year-old Jacqui Cooper of Australia claimed her fifth World Cup title this season with a score of 205.46 points.
Volha Kazulina: “Lukashenka’s words is height of cynicism”
From: Charter '97
Visiting the Vitsebsk region today, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said there is no more the question on political prisoners. “Question concerning the so called political prisoners is closed,” Belarusian head of state said, answering Interfax’s question.
Speaking about political prisoners, Lukashenka said “we have no reasons the claims to be asserted.” “We’ll see what the US will do.” “I’d advice my nation, especially those, who blame me, to watch what the EU and US will do,” A. Lukashenka said. He stressed: “We’ve made a step forward, now let’s see what the European Union and the USA will do in this connection.”
According to Lukashenka, the so called political prisoners “were punished in accordance with the Criminal Code, for concrete crimes.” “We have no political articles,” A. Lukashenka noted.
“I think the way Europe raises a question is not worth a pin, so I decided to release the people, the West and the US had special feelings to,” A. Lukashenka said.
According to him, “they (political prisoners) have apparently done something good for the EU and the US, and they don’t leave them in trouble.” “It is the only thing I like in the positions of the EU and the USA,” A. Lukashenka said.
He declared: “As far as I know, only Kazulin didn’t agree with this position.” “The matter was that his wife is ill and the EU ambassadors addressed to me. It can happen to anybody, things do happen. I agreed – let him accompanied his wife. She may be treated in Germany, he needs to follow his wife,” A. Lukashenka noted.
As he said, “as for the information I’ve received this morning, he refused to treat her.” “But it’s family troubles, he refused, it’s his problem. I offered everything I could, but he refused to treat her,” the president said.
According to him, “he (Kazulin) refused even after his daughters came to him and persuaded him to rescue their mother (Kazulin’s wife), but he doesn’t need this mother.” “I don’t want to intermeddle in other people’s business, time will place everything to order,” A. Lukashenka concluded.
Volha Kazulina: “It’s shameless and inhuman”
The Charter’97 press center asked Kazulin’s daughter Volha to comment on Lukashenka’s statements.
“Our mother is dying and Alyaksandr Lukashenka knows it perfectly. Speaking he is ready to release our father for mother’s treatment is height of cynicism. Let him not hide behind our mother. It’s shameless and inhuman,” Volha Kazulina said.
Andrei Sannikov: “Any bargains and speculations on people’s health don’t make reputation of the Belarusian authorities better in Europe”
Andrei Sannikov, international coordinator of Charter’97, one of the initiators of the civil campaign “European Belarus,” comments on Lukashenka’s words:
“Lukashenka has admitted today he knows well about the situation with Iryna Kazulina’s health, but in spite of it, he tries to use this situation for bargaining. It’s really height of cynicism and in spite of being merciful, he is again stressing the inhuman character of power in Belarus. One shouldn’t be cunning. The European Union said clearly, development of any relations is possible only after all political prisoners are released and political repressions are stopped. Exchange of political prisoners to trade preferences with the EU will fail, in spite of all promises of Lukashenka’s advisers and some European diplomats.
Lukashenka is trying by all means to keep innocent Kazulin in prison. So he is hiding behind other political prisoners: Klimau, Zdzvizhkou, Kim in order Kazulin not to be the only political prisoner in Belarus. But these manoeuvres are so cynically obvious, that Lukashenka can find himself in greater blockade instead of bettering relations with the European Union, because the situation with political prisoners, their health and health of their relatives is watched not so much by EU countries’ governments, as by the international community. So any bargains and speculations on people’s health don’t make reputation of the Belarusian authorities better in Europe, and thus don’t give new necessary for Belarus opportunities for normal relations with the European Union.”