UEFA comes to Belarus, Biometrical passports, Investment, Human trafficking, USA, Russia, Ukraine, Polish scandal, Opposition, and Track cycling gold
President meets with Michel Platini, President of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
From: The office of the president
|Meeting with UEFA President Michel Platini|
“I am very glad that you have been providing great support for our football in both financial and technical aspects,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
Michel Platini expressed his gratitude to the President of Belarus for the support that Belarus had given to him as he was running for the presidency of the UEFA in 2007. “It’s very important for me to see the state of development of football in Belarus. I know you’ve been doing a lot to promote this type of sport in your country,” he said to Alexander Lukashenko.
The President of Belarus conferred Belarus’ supreme sports award on Michel Platini, an Order of the National Olympic Committee.
Following the meeting with the President of Belarus, Mr. Platini talked to the press. The great attention paid by the Belarusian authorities to football predicts a promising future for Belarusian football, he said.
“It’s difficult to foretell the future, but what is evident is the huge carried out by the national football association of Belarus. This work helps maintain interest in football in Belarus, first of all among young people,” he said. “The great funds that Belarus has been investing in training young talented players are a good prerequisite for future successes,” he added.
Belarus’ football has good prospects, UEFA President says
Given the attention the Belarusian state pays to the development of football, the sport has good prospects, UEFA President Michel Platini told reporters in Minsk on April 1.
“It is difficult to foretell the future but we see the results of the great work done by the National Football Federation to maintain the interest in this sport in Belarus, first of all, of young people," the guest noted. “The big funds which are spent on the work with young talents are the key to the promising future. If at least one Pele is born in your country, it will be enough for a great success,” the UEFA President highlighted.
“Belarus and UEFA have good cooperation prospects. We have come to your country to support your National Football Federation and identify the areas of work to develop football in Belarus,” Michel Platini said.
CIS experts to consider issues relating to use of biometrical passports
Participants of the session will also discuss the action plan of the Council for 2008, the measures on implementation of the CIS Development Concept and the principles included in the Declaration of the agreed migration policy of the CIS member states. Members of the Council will be informed about the course of approval of the draft convention on the legal status of working migrants and members of their families. The draft cooperation programme on prevention of illegal migration for 2009-2011, the issues relating to setting up the migration and visa policy in the CIS and CSTO countries, the use of the documents adopted by the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly in the migration sphere are expected to be considered during the session as well.
The CIS Council of the Heads of Migration Bodies was set up to coordinate the cooperation and to settle the issues relating to the migration policy. The Council identifies the priority trends of the cooperation of the CIS member states in the sphere of adjusting the migration processes, promotes the common approaches to harmonize the national legislation in this area, protects the rights and legal interests of migrants. The Council also promotes the integration of the CIS data banks on records of foreign citizens and stateless persons, the implementation of the adopted interstate and intergovernmental documents in the migration sphere.
UN praises Belarus’ bill on refugees
The draft law “On granting the status of a refugee to foreign citizens and stateless persons, on additional and temporary protection in the Republic of Belarus” largely corresponds to international standards, chief of the UNHCR Office in Belarus Ms Sholeh Safavi-Hemami said at a meeting with the deputies of the permanent commission for human rights, national relations and mass media of the Chamber of Representatives on April 1.
Ms Sholeh Safavi-Hemami said that UNHCR highly evaluated the work done by the parliamentarians on this draft. “We are very happy with this bill. It is a comprehensive document which shows that big work was done,” she said.
A reminder, the Chamber of Representatives plans to adopt the draft law in the second reading at the spring session.
The chairman of the commission, Yuri Kulakovski, said that the work on the document is almost over. The document introduces the additional institutions of protection of foreign citizens and stateless persons in Belarus, regulates the issue of identification of a foreign citizen applying for asylum and having no documents for trips abroad. The document specifies the term “members of a family of foreign citizens”, mechanism of reuniting a family. The document introduces the concept “a safe country” with a view to preventing the possible misuse by foreign citizens of the procedure of getting the status of a refugee.
“The work on the bill was not connected with any emergency circumstances. Yet, the issues of migration can emerge any time, for example, as a result of a natural calamity or political events in this or that country,” says Yuri Kulakovski. Therefore the national legislation should set forth the norms on additional protection of foreign citizens.
Belarusian banks should increase investment loans, President says
The President urged to intensify the work on increasing an inflow of investments in the economy so that their volume would increase by 25% over 2007.
The President was reported about the course of implementation of the monetary policy guidelines. Piotr Prokopovich informed that all targets are being met; payment system functions smoothly; the interest, credit policy is in line with the plans.
In Q1 2008, the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble as against the USD strengthened by 0.2% or Br5. According to Piotr Prokopovich, the national currency will continue growing stronger following the effective economic performance of the country. In January-March 2008, export revenues of the companies increased 1.56 times over the same period last year. Gold and foreign currency reserves reached $5.5 billion as of the end of March.
The meeting also focused on the efforts taken by the National Bank and the Government to implement the construction industry development programme. The programme is expected to help achieve the level of construction of 10 million sq.m. per year. For these purposes the construction industry capacities will be increased twofold. The head of state has approved the measures and the approaches to addressing the task.
Piotr Prokopovich informed that all sources of financing the measures, for example, developing the production of construction materials, strengthening the material bases of the construction companies have been identified. Over the three years a total of Br4.3 trillion of banking loans will be spent on these purposes. “This is an unprecedented level of lending. It would help us create in fact a new construction industry and execute the instructions of the head of state to increase the housing construction in the country,” Piotr Prokopovich said.
In Q1 Belarusian ruble strengthened by 0.2% as against USD
In Q1 2008 the official exchange rate pf the Belarusian ruble as against the USD strengthened by 0.2% or Br5, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus Piotr Prokopovich reported to President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on March 31, BelTA was told in the presidential press service,
According to Piotr Prokopovich, the national currency will continue growing stronger following the effective economic performance of the country. In January-March 2008, export revenues of the companies increased 1.56 times over the same period last year. Gold and foreign currency reserves reached $5.5 billion as of the end of March.
Belarus’ bank capital 4% up in January-February
As of March 1, 2008, the Belarusian bank capital totaled Br6786.1 billion (more than €2 billion), a 4%-growth (Br259.3 billion) in January-February, BelTA learnt from the National Bank surveillance department.
Over 82.5% of the bank capital is contained in the five backbone banks. Revaluation of major banking resources was the main reason for bank capital growth within the two months of 2008.
In January-February, the aggregate authorized fund of the Belarusian banks grew Br45.5 billion and, as of March 1, 2008, reached Br4567 billion (almost €1.4 billion).
The authorized funds of 23 out of 28 Belarusian banks have foreign capital. As of March 1, 2008, foreign investments accounted for 10.5% of the aggregate authorized fund of the Belarusian banks (as of January 1, 2008 – 9.84%), with 3.84% of the Russian capital.
Foreign capital to the authorized fund of the Belarusian banks goes mainly from Austria, Great Britain, Cyprus, Latvia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Libya, the USA, Ukraine and other countries.
Mogilev to host international seminar on counteracting human trafficking
The objective of the seminar is to raise the qualifications of the law enforcement officers involved in counteracting human trafficking, to enhance cooperation with NGOs, international organizations and neighboring states. The main emphasis is to be laid on the work of the state bodies in the area of human trafficking prevention, their cooperation with other organizations and their work with human trafficking victims.
The seminar is to be attended by law enforcement officers from all the regions of the oblast, the representatives of the Supreme Court, the KGB, General Prosecutor’s Office, the State Border Committee, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, NGOs and other bodies and organizations.
The organizers of the seminar are the Interior Ministry and International Organization for Migration (IOM) with the financial assistance of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in line with the project of the international technical assistance “Fight against human trafficking: the Republic of Belarus” which is being implemented by the Belarusian Interior Ministry and the IOM Office in Belarus.
In 2007, 16,800 foreign citizens brought to administrative responsibility in Belarus
A total of 220 criminal cases were opened in respect of foreign citizens and stateless persons for repeated violation of the rules. Enactments on deportation were issued in respect of over 2,000 foreign citizens for gross violations. Of them 780 were deported under police escort.
According to Aleksei Begun, the crimes committed by foreign citizens account, in general, by around 1% of the total crime rate in the country. Most illegal migrants try to keep low profile as they seek to get into the EU countries. Around 90% of the crimes committed by foreign citizens are committed by citizens of Russia, Ukraine, other CIS countries. These are frauds, murders, illegal entrepreneurial activity.
Aleksei Begun noted that illegal migrants consider Belarus not only as a transit country on the way to Europe but also as a destination point. These are mainly natives of South-East Asia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo, India, Vietnam, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and others.
At the same time, Aleksei Begun said, the measures undertaken in Belarus to counteract crimes in this field forced the organizers of illegal migration set up the illegal migration channels outside Belarus. As a result, the number of groups going transit via Belarus has reduced. Thus, in 2007, the Belarusian interior agencies detained eight groups of illegal migrants of the total number of more than 50 people. To compare: in 2006 – 26 groups (over 120 persons), in 2005 – 53 groups (over 300 illegal migrants). Four groups (16 illegal migrants) were detected over the two months of 2008.
President of Belarus urges to increase quality of investigation and crime detection rate
In another story from the presidents office, During a meeting with Prosecutor General Grigory Vasilevich on April 1 President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko urged to increase the quality of investigation and crime detection rate, BelTA was told in the presidential press service.
Though the crime rate has been reducing, the detection rate is still not high. Of the total 180,000 crimes in Belarus, more than 100,000 are theft of property, residential burglary. According to the Prosecutor General, more attention should be given to crime prevention by the executive authorities as well. In this connection Grigory Vasilevich suggested that when taking personnel decisions and appointing chiefs of local authorities, one of the criteria should be the crime rate in the area he is in charge of. According to Grigory Vasilevich, the President supported this proposal.
The issues relating to the procuracy bodies activity were discussed twice over the past month: at the meeting focusing on strengthening the defensive capacity, law and order and security and at the meeting of the judges of the country.
The head of state drew attention to the cases of red tape in the work with the complaints from citizens. In 2007 the procuracy bodies considered more than 65,000 companies; every seventh of them was grounded. The President said it attests to the drawbacks in the work of the executive power and courts.
Alexander Lukashenko urged to strengthen procuracy supervision to increase the efficiency of the protection of the rights and legal interests of citizens.
Grigory Vasilevich informed the head of state on the work of the procuracy bodies over the past several months.
US embassy advised to make further cuts
From: Ria Novosti and Reuters
The Foreign Ministry summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Belarus, Jonathan Moore, to deliver the official note.
"An official note was given to the U.S. representative regarding the refusal by the U.S. to withdraw additional economic restrictions against Belneftekhim, as well as the U.S. administration consistent policy of reducing its contacts with the Belarusian side, the Republic of Belarus has decided to additionally cut its Embassy staff in Washington," The Foreign Ministry said.
The note also contained Article 11 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations suggesting the U.S. side reduce its Embassy staff in Minsk by the same number and within the same timescale. The ministry, however, specified neither.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos condemned the move to reduce staff further.
"We consider these demands unwarranted and unjustified and we are considering our response," Gallegos told Reuters.
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry, in a note delivered to the U.S. charge d'affaires, said the U.S. measures had obliged them to reduce staff at the Belarus embassy in Washington and it demanded equivalent cuts at the U.S. embassy in Minsk.
"Given the repeated U.S. refusal to rescind new measures against Belneftekhim and the consistent U.S. line on reducing contacts. ... Belarus has decided to further reduce the size of its embassy in Washington," the ministry said on its Web site, without specifying the number of people involved.
"It is being proposed that the U.S. side reduce the size of its embassy staff by the same numbers and within the same deadlines," it said.
Tensions between the two countries heightened after Washington imposed sanctions last November against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary. American companies were banned from dealing with it.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador earlier this month for consultations and demanded that the U.S. cut by half the number of staff at its embassy in Belarus. The U.S. agreed.
Until recently the U.S. employed 38 diplomats in Belarus, and Minsk had 18 diplomatic staff in Washington.
US embassy resumes visa services
On March 19, the embassy announced that it was suspending its visa services because of the Belarusian government’s urgent request for staff cuts. The embassy then said that its resources were “engaged addressing other priorities,” and that further information would be provided “once the extent of the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide visa services in Belarus has been determined.”
“The embassy will keep in contact with those whose visa interview appointments have been cancelled to schedule a new appointment,” the officer said. “Extra information on visa issue matters will be posted on our website as soon as it is possible.”
Minsk demanded, without giving a reason, that the United States reduce its embassy staff to the number of staff members of the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Washington and threatened to expel some of the 35 US diplomats if it does not.
The United States agreed to the demand to avoid breaking diplomatic ties altogether. The US embassy’s staff members were reduced by half to 17 people last week.
Belarusian-American relations further deteriorated after the United States imposed economic sanctions against Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim over human rights abuses.
In mid-November 2007, the US Treasury Department announced that any assets found in the USA that belong to Belnaftakhim) should be frozen, as the Department had added Belnaftakhim to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. The resulting sanctions also
Belarus minister visits Qatar Interior Ministry headquarters
From: The Peninsula
|The Heir Apparent H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani receiving Belarus Minister of State for Internal Affairs Vladimir Naumov in his Emiri Diwan office, yesterday.|
Vladimir and the accompanying delegation were shown around Ministry of Interior's headquarters. The visiting minister watched the total activities of the operations room in pursuing all security related issues from receiving complaints to transferring these complaints to the concerned departments for action.
The visiting minister and the official delegation expressed their excitement on the standard of security service performed by the operations room and the available technological facilities used by the operations room.
The minister also visited forensic laboratory department of Ministry of Interior where he was briefed on duties and responsibilities of the department by its director by Brig. Hasan Al Ubaidaly.
Organizers of march in Minsk on Belarusian-Russian Unity Day invite rock musicians to play in concert to be staged in culmination of the event
As one of the organizers, former lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, told BelaPAN, the concert will take place in Nations’ Freedom Park that adjoins Bangalore Square from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“We invite all rock musicians who value the ideals of freedom and democracy to take part in this show,” Mr. Skrabets said. “Electric power and quality concert equipment will be available. Since the city government has given its permission for the march and the concert, we don’t expect any obstacles on the part of authorities.”
The Minsk City Executive Committee has allowed the march to run from the square in front of the National Academy of Sciences to Bangalore Square along Surhanava Street.
About 10 people took part in a similar demonstration last year. The organizers predict that up to 250 people will take part in the march this time.
Eurovision Betting Odds: Ruslan Alehno, Belarus
Last week we stormed through all the Eurovision countries beginning with A, which we've come to learn stands for 'appalling'. But this week we're looking at the B countries and a C country. Will they be as rubbish? Actually, no - you'll get to hear about our favourite Eurovision song this week. But we have to plough through this crap first.
Although it might not appear it at first, Hasta La Vista by Ruslan Alehno is actually the result of years of scientific experiments. The question that sparked off the experiments, like you need to be told, was 'what happens if you take Ben from Lost, give his hair a good old GHDing and force him to sing an Enrique Iglesias b-side about the catchprase of a futuristic fighting robot that's been sent back in time to protect a child?' And the conclusion is quite clearly 'a bit of a mess.' It doesn't help that Hasta La Vista sounds exactly the same as all the other Eurovision songs this year, or that whoever wrote it seems to think that 'glass' rhymes with 'discuss' - but the real problem is Ruslan Alehno himself. He makes Hasta La Vista sound like a bad karaoke version of itself, which we suppose is actually a good thing, because if we hear anyone actually singing a real karaoke version of Hasta La Vista, the next thing their microphone will be amplifying is the sound of their own small intestine. Current Eurovision betting odds - 100/1
So here are the Eurovision betting odds for Belarus and all of the other participating countries.
|Russia 4 - 1 |
Serbia 9 - 2
Ireland 5 - 1
Armenia 11 - 2
Ukraine 6 - 1
Sweden 12 - 1
Bulgaria 18 - 1
Greece 20 - 1
Bosnia Herzegovina 20 - 1
Latvia 20 - 1
Romania 25 - 1
Georgia 28 - 1
Turkey 28 - 1
Israel 33 - 1
Spain 33 - 1
France 33 - 1
Iceland 33 - 1
Albania 33 - 1
Finland 40 - 1
Andorra 40 - 1
Switzerland 40 - 1
Norway 40 - 1
Belgium 40 - 1
Hungary 50 - 1
Portugal 50 - 1
Estonia 50 - 1
Slovenia 50 - 1
UK 50 - 1
Malta 50 - 1
Azerbaijan 50 - 1
Germany 66 - 1
Poland 66 - 1
Denmark 66 - 1
Cyprus 100 - 1
Lithuania 100 - 1
Belarus 100 - 1
Czech Republic 100 - 1
Croatia 100 - 1
FYR Macedonia 100 - 1
Moldova 150 - 1
San Marino 150 - 1
Netherlands 150 - 1
Montenegro 150 - 1
Nikolai Cherginets proposes to set up public council to draw up list of socially significant literature
According to him, the existing form of the socially significant literature determination is obsolete. The public council may include representatives of the Belarusian Union of Writers as well.
He also informed that the Belarusian Union of Writers joins 416 people. The Union has started to publish its own library. This month it will be replenished by the books by Ivan Shamyakin, Ivan Chigrinov, Petrus Brovka. On the whole, in 2008 some 60 books are expected to be published.
Cultural cooperation within framework of Union State intensified significantly, Sergei Shukhno says
The cultural cooperation within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union state has been intensified significantly, Deputy State Secretary of the Belarus-Russia Union State Sergei Shukhno told a press conference in Moscow.
According to him, for the recent 12 years more than 70 various cultural events have been organized within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State. These are the Union State Prize for Literature and Art, the funding of the International Festival of Arts “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk”, the holding of the Year of Belarusian Culture in Russia and the Russian Culture in Belarus and many others.
According to Sergei Shukhno, the help of the Belarus-Russia’s union budget to restore the memorial compound Brest Hero Fortress and to set up Yanka Kupala’s monument in Moscow is an important trend of the cultural cooperation within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State. At present, specialists of the two countries are working with a new project – reconstruction of monuments to Russian soldiers in Polotsk and Smorgon, the deputy state secretary noted.
Sergei Shukhno also noted that annually the financing of the cultural sphere from the union budget is increased.
We Are Belarusians action to tour Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland
The concerts of the Belarusian public-cultural action We Are Belarusians will be held in Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland, Alexander Garbar, the director general of the Belarusian State Philharmonics, told a press conference in Minsk on March 31.
Alexander Garbar informed that the agreements were reached to organize the concerts in St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn and Gdansk.
The companies of the Belarusian State Philharmonics extensively tour and enhance the professional musical culture of Belarus. The number of Belarusian concerts overseas has recently increased.
Partaking in the action We Are Belarusians is the State Chamber Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, Zhinovich Academic National Orchestra, Syabry Ensemble and others.
Belarus Solidarity Cycling Expedition 2008
From: One world
For the second time, the European Centre for Eco Agro Tourism (ECEAT) organizes a "solidarity cycling expedition", which will bring together volunteers from Western Europe and Belarus. Lasting thirty days, but divided into three partly overlapping periods of twelve days, the expedition will cover about 1.500 kilometers of beautiful eco-corridors and typical villages.
Cycling one day out of two, the thirty volunteers will dedicate the rest of their time to meetings, workshops, discussions and debates with the local population. They will each be specialized in a subject, which they will have to work on. ECEAT wishes to lead Belarusian people to achieve private initiatives for sustainable tourism and protection for nature and culture.
US-Russia Missile Deal Possible
A key pledge: The U.S. won't activate new sites in Poland and the Czech Republic unless Iran proves itself an imminent threat to Europe by test-flying a missile capable of reaching the continent.
A broader but less-specific agreement seems assured when President Bush sits down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. That would be a "strategic framework" for relations between the two countries after Bush and Putin leave office.
But the White House seems to think there could be a bigger breakthrough, on the defense system to guard Europe against a missile attack from Iran or elsewhere.
The proposed limitation linked to Iran testing is one of several measures designed to assuage Russian security concerns. It's not yet clear whether they are enough to persuade Moscow to go along.
"Obviously, we've got a lot of work to do to allay suspicions and old fears, but I think we're making pretty good progress along those lines," Bush said Tuesday. He spoke in Kiev, Ukraine, before flying to Romania for a NATO summit where missile defense — including some Europeans' worries about Russia's strong objections — will be on the agenda. Bush would like NATO to announce its support.
If Bush and Putin fail to settle differences on missile defense, their meeting still might be declared a success if, as expected, the two men say they have an understanding on the most important issues that Washington and Moscow should deal with as both capitals transition to new leaders.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in Moscow the document setting out a "strategic vision of the future" should be adopted at the Bush-Putin meeting. It will touch on the tough issues in Russian-U.S. relations, he said.
U.S. officials have said that a "strategic framework," or agenda for further talks, is intended to highlight areas of agreement between the former Cold War foes — such as their efforts against global terrorist networks — and indicate that relations hold promise for the future.
The framework probably would mention missile defense as well as future arms reductions negotiations, although it would not necessarily mean the two sides agree on solutions in those areas. For example, it probably would not include a Russian statement in support of U.S. missile defense in Europe but would say this is among the high-priority issues that future administrations should address, along with NATO.
Putin is to be succeeded as president in early May by Dmitry Medvedev, and Bush will leave office in January.
In remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday in Bucharest, Bush highlighted his push for missile defense.
"The need for missile defense in Europe is real and it is urgent," he said. "Iran is pursuing technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them."
He added: "Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles which would give them the capability to reach us right here in Romania. And our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe should it choose to do so."
Alluding to efforts to agree on an agenda for future relations with Russia, Bush said, "We are working toward a new security relationship with Russia whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation."
Senior administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have made it clear that if Russians won't budge that will not stop Washington from continuing to pursue missile defense arrangements in Europe. The U.S. is negotiating with Poland for the right to station 10 missile interceptors there and with the Czech Republic to install a tracking radar as a vital part of the missile defense network.
The U.S. plan is to have the European elements ready for limited use by 2011 and fully operational by 2013.
Asked about the prospects for a breakthrough at Sochi, Gates told reporters Tuesday in Copenhagen that he saw reason for optimism but was not ready to predict the Russians would decide the time is right for a deal.
"I gave up predicting when I left CIA," Gates said, referring to his departure from the spy agency in January 1993 after a career that included years as an analyst of the former Soviet Union.
"The Russians are probably never going to like missile defense," Gates said. "But I think the assurances that we have provided and the mechanisms that we have proposed give them assurance that it is not aimed at them, and my hope is that that will lead to positive outcomes" in Bucharest and Sochi.
While Gates and officials accompanying Bush say the president is hopeful of an agreement with Russia, a U.S. official in Washington said such an accord at this point would be surprising. The official, familiar with the situation but speaking only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the two sides are still too far apart.
The assurances to which Gates referred were given when he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Moscow last month with Putin and other senior Russians. Gates said he was confident that those talks "had a real impact on" the Russians, though they produced no agreement then.
Gates said Monday that he expects a public statement of support for missile defense by the allies at this week's NATO summit.
"To the degree there have been reservations among some here in western Europe about missile defense, in part it has been concern over the Russian reaction," Gates said at a joint news conference Tuesday with his Danish counterpart, Soeren Gade, who described himself as an ardent supporter of missile defense.
The Bush administration boosted the U.S. budget for missile defense when it took office in 2001 and now spends $10 billion a year on it.
Linking the system to developments in Iran is important because it addresses one of the Russians' main arguments against U.S. missile defense in Europe, namely that it is being designed with Russia's arsenal in mind, not Iran's. The Russians say that Iran does not yet have a missile capable of striking Europe.
During meetings with Czech officials last fall, Gates first publicly stated the administration's willingness to not activate the systems in Poland and the Czech Republic until Iran had conducted flight tests of a missile capable of reaching Europe. At the time he said Washington would wait for "definitive proof" of an Iranian threat.
The administration also has proposed giving the Russians a right to send monitors to the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic — but only if the Czech and Polish governments agree in advance — as a way of reassuring them that the bases are being used as advertised.
Gates also has proposed negotiating limitations on the size and scope of the missile defense facilities in Europe in order to ensure that they would not grow later and become a threat to Russia's missile arsenal. It is not clear whether that offer is still part of the talks with Moscow.
Russia doomsday cult prays for sign to leave bunker
|A rescue worker stands at the entrance to an underground hideout where some members of a doomsday cult emerged after a six months stay outside the settlement of Nikolskoye in the Penza region April 1, 2008.|
The local chief negotiator said 14 cult members who remained underground would spend the night in the bunker praying for a sign from God that it was time for them to come out.
"They understand this is a chance the Lord is giving them," said Oleg Melnichenko, deputy governor of the Penza region where cult members have been holed up since October.
"They will pray all night in the hopes that a sign comes to them to leave their bunker," he told reporters as the light faded after a day of negotiations with members of the cult.
The group that came out of the bunker early on Tuesday included two girls aged 8 and 12. The negotiator said they decided to leave after a section of their dugout collapsed, the latest in a series of cave-ins.
"All are in good health, considering they have spent half a year underground," said Melnichenko.
"They have refused medical attention and are now in a house, praying, where they say they will stay until Orthodox Easter (on April 27) ... They said that God had given them a signal to leave."
The sect is an ultra-devout splinter group of the Russian Orthodox church. They reject processed food and say bar codes on products are the work of Satan.
They sealed themselves off on October 27 in an earthen bunker dug into a gulley near the village of Nikolskoe, 750 kilometers (450 miles) south east of Moscow.
Cult members had refused to come out of their bunker before the apocalypse, which their leader Pavel Kuznetsov -- now undergoing psychiatric treatment -- predicted would happen in April or May this year.
They had threatened to blow up gas canisters in their bunker if police tried to bring them out by force.
A Reuters reporter who crawled down into a now abandoned section of the bunker found a makeshift kitchen and a sleeping space hollowed out of the earth. Among the belongings left behind were a chess set and pages from a children's book.
Someone had carved large images of flowers and plants on the walls and cardboard covered the floor.
Seven female cult members left the dugout at the weekend after meltwater caused part of the earth structure to collapse.
All the cult members who have emerged from the bunker were being kept in cottages in a nearby village. They brought with them supplies from the dugout, including jars of pickled mushrooms. Police were stopping reporters from speaking to them.
Officials had for weeks been trying to persuade members to come out, negotiating through a ventilation shaft. They brought self-declared prophet Kuznetsov, and an Orthodox priest, to help with negotiations.
Kuznetsov did not join his followers in the bunker, saying God had different tasks for him.
Ukraine's Chief Picks Big Targets; She Bucks Moscow, Moguls, Traders; Worry in the West
From: Wall Street Journal
|Ukrainian Premier Yulia Tymoshenko promotes her anticorruption campaign.|
Ms. Tymoshenko, who made a fortune in the gas trade with Russia in the mid-1990s, has been swinging her sword against Moscow, natural-gas traders and some of Ukraine's wealthiest businessmen.
"Every week we are dragging different parts of this economy out of the shadows, from corruption," she said in an interview. "You have to use strength."
Ms. Tymoshenko's motives in tackling the endemic corruption that cripples Ukraine have become a central question for this strategic, Texas-size country sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.
Ms. Tymoshenko's message is popular in Ukraine, where frustration is deep at the meager results of the dramatic pro-democracy protests of 2004, known as the Orange Revolution. Many supporters believe she alone has the will to rekindle the drive to build a Western-style democracy and economy in Ukraine.
In the few months since she returned to power in December, Ms. Tymoshenko went to the wall with Russia's gas monopoly OAO Gazprom in an effort to eliminate two middleman trading companies. She returned hundreds of millions of dollars to Ukrainians who lost savings to hyperinflation in the 1990s. And she revived Ukraine's moribund bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Some European countries worry that speeding Ukraine toward NATO will freeze relations with Moscow and could disrupt natural-gas deliveries, as happened in 2006. Pipelines through Ukraine deliver more than 80% of Russia's supply to the European Union.
Ms. Tymoshenko has focused much of her energy on trying to force two middlemen companies out of the lucrative gas trade between Russia and Ukraine. She has accused the companies of effectively bankrupting Ukraine's national energy company and of siphoning money to high officials in both countries. RosUkrEnergo officials have repeatedly denied those accusations.
Last week, however, a businessman widely thought to be close to Ms. Tymoshenko, Ihor Kolomoisky, said he was in talks to buy the Ukrainian half of the main middleman, RosUkrEnergo, which Moscow says must stay in business for now.
Her opponents say she just wants to see her own business supporters benefit. "She's trying to re-create [the gas company that made her rich in the 1990s], but she has to do it through someone else," says Konstantin Borodin, an energy consultant and formerly spokesman of the energy minister who was ousted when Ms. Tymoshenko took power.
Ms. Tymoshenko says Mr. Kolomoisky is an unscrupulous "raider" who uses corrupt courts to secure assets. She promised to fight his bid, as well as his recent seizure of control over Ukraine's biggest oil refinery.
Ms. Tymoshenko's daughter Yevgenia believes her mother is badly, and often deliberately misunderstood.
"There was this image a lot of people had of my mum as someone who was involved in shady deals and is just the same as everyone else," says Yevgenia, speaking in her house outside Kyiv. "I think that image is slowly being destroyed as people see more of her and her policies. But it's taking a long time."
Ms. Tymoshenko, 47 years old, started life modestly. She grew up with her single mother in Dnipropetrovsk, an industrial city in South East Ukraine. She took part-time jobs including stacking tractor tires while at university.
After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, Ukraine was ravaged by hyperinflation. The Soviet-era supply chains broke down. Anything was possible with the right connections, and Ms. Tymoshenko had a genius for making them. She started bartering Ukrainian goods for oil and then for natural gas from Russia.
She arrived at the office of then-Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev dressed in a miniskirt and jackboots in an effort to persuade him to let her handle gas trade with Ukrainian factories that had racked up billions of dollars in debt. "It was the fashion, I didn't wear them just for him," she laughs.
To make money, Ms. Tymoshenko's company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine, built complicated cashless supply chains of products from raw iron ore to finished steel pipes and military hardware. Each Ukrainian factory would pay for gas by supplying goods to the next factory in the chain, using products of a slightly higher value than the last. By the end of the chain, UESU walked away with enough goods to pay Gazprom, plus up to 50% extra as profit, according to Viktor Butok, a vice president of UESU who helped to design and run the system. In 1996, the turnover involved in UESU's business was around $10 billion.
UESU was able to grow because Pavlo Lazarenko, the governor of Ms. Tymoshenko's home town of Dnipropetrovsk, became prime minister in 1996. He licensed Ms. Tymoshenko to deliver gas to most of the industry. Rival business clans became jealous. In 1997, Mr. Lazarenko was forced to resign under pressure from President Leonid Kuchma and UESU lost its market to a new state energy company Mr. Kuchma created.
Mr. Lazarenko is now in California, appealing a conviction for money laundering. According to the court papers describing the charges in that case, Ms. Tymoshenko's company paid over $100 million in bribes into his personal accounts.
"Corruption existed then and it exists now," says Ms. Tymoshenko, asked about the payments. She took the Ukrainian equivalent of the Fifth Amendment when questioned for the Lazarenko case. "But some accept this and try to benefit from the situation. Others try to change it." Ms. Tymoshenko went into politics full time after her company's collapse, eventually creating a party in her own name.
By the time of the Orange Revolution in 2004, many Ukrainians saw Ms. Tymoshenko not as an oligarch, but as a popular crusader against corruption. She lasted just six months in the prime minister's job that time, however. "I tried to change everything in six months and that was a mistake," says Ms. Tymoshenko. "I was the only warrior in the field."
Ukraine contracts for Westinghouse nuclear fuel
Ukraine relies heavily on natural gas supplies from Russia, RIA Novosti reported. As such, in January 2006, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced plans to initiate nuclear fuel production in the country.
This winter, Russia's energy company Gazprom announced it would cut back on supplies to Ukraine until disputes over back payments were settled. The incident lasted less than a week but highlighted Ukraine's vulnerability to foreign energy supplies, Novosti reported.
"This contract represents a major commitment from both Westinghouse and Ukraine in ensuring that alternative and competitive nuclear fuel supplies are available to the benefit of Ukraine's nuclear energy provider and, ultimately, its citizens," Westinghouse said in a release.
Westinghouse, with headquarters in Monroeville, Pa., signed the contract with Ukraine's nuclear power utility Energoatom, the report said.
The Price Russia Must Pay for Being Hysterical
From: Moscow Times
And what will President Vladimir Putin say during his speech at the summit?
He could do a repeat of his speech from Munich last year, which was full of grievances and ridiculous accusations leveled at the West. Or, as the Kremlin has indicated, Putin, in his last personal address before Western leaders, could seize the historic opportunity by making positive proposals for improving relations between Russia and NATO countries.
I think Putin feels torn because, on the one hand, he would like to continue lambasting the West, but, on the other hand, he understands that Western countries are not Russia's enemies, but its partners.
Since the country's presidential elections are over, what purpose would it serve now to continue frightening voters about a fifth column and supposed enemies who have encircled Russia because they do not want to see it get up off its knees?
The average Russian actually cares little about NATO expansion. But if you stop him on the street and ask him, "Are you for or against Ukraine joining NATO?" he will probably answer "against." That is how he has been taught to think. This is not surprising considering that state propaganda has hammered into his head for decades that NATO is an aggressive bloc that once menaced the Soviet Union and now threatens Russia?
But if you were to ask him to list his fears and concerns, I would guess that NATO membership for Kiev and Tbilisi would never enter his mind. Instead, he would mention inflation, rampant corruption, abuse of power by the police, a lack of justice, traffic jams and a host of other issues without ever mentioning NATO.
Russians have already heard Putin cry wolf with regard to NATO's eastward expansion. The former Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary all joined the alliance without any terrible consequences for Russia. Following that, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria joined its ranks, bringing NATO up to Russia's border. Nothing frightening came of that either.
During a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin made an extremely important statement. "Under modern conditions, when there is no longer confrontation between two hostile systems, an endless expansion of the military and political alliance is not only impractical, but counterproductive," he said.
In other words, Putin admitted that NATO did not represent a military threat to Russia. What is actually bothering him then? His further comments provide the answer: "It would seem that attempts are being made to create an organization to take the place of the United Nations. NATO is already going beyond the scope of its mandate. We have nothing against helping Afghanistan, but ... this is not a NATO problem."
So that is the chip Putin been carrying around on his shoulder. He is worried that the entire framework of international relations is changing -- that alongside the United Nations, where Russia enjoys the privilege of being a permanent Security Council member with veto power, NATO is rivaling its global influence. And because this organization requires member countries to observe basic democratic values and procedures, Moscow might find itself on the sidelines.
Also looming on the horizon is the threat by U.S. presidential candidate John McCain --whose chances of taking the White House are increasing with every day -- to exclude Russia from the Group of Eight for revanchism, staging cyber attacks against other states and backtracking on democracy. Some would say this is nothing but pre-election rhetoric from the McCain camp, but it appears that the Russian elite are not interested in taking that chance.
The elite seem to understand that continually irritating the West is a luxury they can no longer afford. An example: Once Russia spoiled its relationship with Britain, even Russians who regularly traveled to London on official business and who used to receive long-term multiple-entry visas on a regular basis are shocked to find out that they are now granted visas just long enough to conduct their affairs and go home. If your meeting in Britain will last one day, you will get a one-day visa -- maybe a two- or three-day visa if you are lucky.
That news had a disquieting effect on this country's higher-ups. It is no secret that Russia's economy is integrated into the world economy and that the lives of its ruling elite are linked to the West because of their vast financial interests there. As a rule, Russia's richest business moguls own major shares in leading Russian companies through foreign offshore financial structures. In the West, they have their bank accounts, real estate, wives, children, soccer teams, seaside villas and mega-yachts anchored at marinas in Sardinia and the Cote d'Azure. This explains why many politicians are trying to lower the temperature in relations with the West.
The problem of Russia's political and economic legitimization is still on the authorities' agenda. Solving that problem will only be possible in the context of a completely different atmosphere in international relations. This is what has motivated leaders to step back from the policy of confrontation and look for another approach.
Extremely indicative of this was President-elect Dmitry Medvedev's decision to give his first big interview following his election to the Financial Times, a newspaper based in Britain, a country that has been Russia's enemy No. 1. In the interview, Medvedev said he respected Prime Minister Gordon Brown and declared that he was prepared to restore full cooperation with Britain with no preconditions. Imagine if the next U.S. president were to give his or her first official interview as president to Izvestia or Kommersant.
A direct flight between Moscow and Tbilisi has already been reinstated, and Georgian wines and Borjomi are expected to make their reappearance any day now. In addition, talks are under way to smooth out disagreements over Russian gas shipments to Ukraine. What's more, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently came to Moscow for talks with their counterparts and with Putin and Medvedev, were left speechless by the outpouring of friendship shown by their Russian hosts. They even appeared willing to look for a solution to the European missile-defense deployment stalemate.
It could be, however, that all of this goodwill is coming too late and that Russia will still have a price to pay for their earlier hysterics. And this price could come in the form of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.
In the spotlight: Krzysztof Rutkowski
From: Warsaw Business Journal
The newspaper reported that Rutkowski was optimistic about his chances of being elected and claimed to know how to solve the region's problems. He plans to run for office on the issue of improving public safety.
Accused of corruption, as well as activity in the so-called "fuel mafia," Rutkowski was detained by agents of the Internal Security Agency in July 2006 and subsequently placed under arrest. He was released in May 2007, but his movement remained restricted by the state. Rutkowski has protested his innocence and intends to seek compensation for his arrest.
Before the scandal erupted, Rutkowski was active in Poland's political life. He ran and was elected to the Sejm from the Self-defense party's list in the 2001 parliamentary elections, but left the party's parliamentary club soon afterwards. In 2004 and 2005, he unsuccessfully ran for seats in the European Parliament and the Polish Sejm, respectively.
Born in 1960 in Teresin, in the 1980s Rutkowski was a member of the Citizens' Militia, a state police institution in the People's Republic of Poland, and served in its ZOMO paramilitary riot police unit. After the end of communism, he became a detective and owned, from 1990-2001, his own detective agency. Some of the agency's investigations were featured in the popular "Detektyw" television program broadcast by the TV station TVN. Rutkowski's work as a private detective, however, was marred by a number of court cases over allegations that he and his agency operated using illegal methods.
Polish defence minister rebukes counterintelligence officers for posting photos on community portal
From: Axis Globe
Although they did not specify they worked for the SKW they made clear that the photos were taken during a military mission in Afghanistan. The pictures, which showed them sporting local robes as well as uniforms, attracted appreciative comments from their former school mates. The personal details of SKW officers are a closely guarded secret and are not even known to many Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. One of the tasks of the SKW is the counter-intelligence protection of Polish soldiers on missions abroad.
According to the Ministry of Defence, although the photographs and comments posted on the portal did not enable the identification of the soldiers, their conduct is nevertheless reprehensible.
The Gazeta Wyborcza has published some of the photos.
"By doing such a thing, these people endangered themselves, the soldiers and their families," Gazeta Wyborcza cites General Marek Dukaczewski, the last head of WSI, SKW's predecessor, adding: "I cannot imagine a secret operation carried out by people whose names and faces can be seen on the internet."
"I thought nothing could happen to heighten our sense of the chaos at the SKW. I was wrong," Pawel Gras, the former secret services minister, commented to the daily newspaper. SKW was established in 2006. Antoni Macierewicz, its first head, was criticized for hiring inexperienced people and dismissing seasoned former WSE officers.
Sleeping driver probable cause of Austrian coach crash
From: The News
One person died and 39 were injured.
According to the Austrian police, the Polish driver fell asleep behind the wheel. The weather conditions were good and the road surface dry. The preliminary inspection of the bus suggests that everything was in order.
The accident happened before 6 am on a highway between the towns of Haid and Sattledt. The coach belonging to Fanklub company from Poznan, western Poland was transporting 55 workers of the heat and power plant Opole on a skiing trip to northern Italy.
The coach suddenly pulled over, crashed through the road side barrier and fell off a 4-metre embankment, turning to its side. A 40-year-old man died and five people were seriously injured.
Out of the 55 passengers, only 11 escaped unscathed. The driver emerged from the crash in severe shock and said only: "I regret that it's not me that died".
Last July, 20 Polish pilgrims died in a coach crash in Grenoble, France.
Two criminal cases against Andrei Kim merged into one
In the beginning of the trial the judge Alena Ilyina ruled to prohibit taking photos and videos. The three journalists who disobeyed to this requirement were taken out of the court hall.
Kim’s lawyer Sidarenka solicited for change of the restraint to the defendant. Kim could be released on bail with his mother Tatsiana Kim and the entrepreneur Ihar Lednik as guarantors, but it wasn’t done.
The state accuser Lukianau solicited for merging the two criminal cases against Kim into one. Bear in mind that charges under Article 364 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (violence or a threat to use violence against a policeman with an aim to prevent him from performing his lawful activities) were brought against Kim within the frames of the first case and under article 342 (organization of active participation in mass riot) – in the second. What concerns the second case, there are nine more accused in it. So, since the two cases were merged into one, Andrei Kim will be tried together with other accused persons.
Riot Police called in to quell Kim protest
Activists of youth organizations and common citizens have gathered today near the court to express their support to the activist. They were standing in front of the court holding portraits of political prisoners and chanted ‘Freedom to Kim!’
People were encircled by about 10 riot policemen, who started to push out people away from the building of the court in direction of Dinamo stadium. Riot policemen were very rough and shoved people.
The trial in the case of the young activist Andrei Kim has started on 1 April, at 2 p.m. in the court of Tsentralny district of Minsk.
The political prisoner Andrei Kim was detained during the rally of entrepreneurs on March 21 in Minsk and arrested for 10 days. After serving the arrest he was placed to a pre-trial detention center in Valadarski street in Minsk.
Charges relating Article 364 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (violence or a threat to use violence against a policeman with an aim to prevent him from performing his lawful activities) are filed against him.
Andrei Kim has spent more than 2 months in the pre-trial detention center.
Authorities censoring literature
From: Charter '97
The three ministries must draw up a programme on purchasing of socially important literature, which is kept in stocks of the publishing houses of the Ministry of Information.
Besides, the prime minister ordered to determine a necessary amount of finance to buy socially important literature for libraries, and make forward proposals to the government, if necessary.
Syarhei Sidorski emphasised that publishing houses of Belarus should perform their own orders. It should be informatory literature of high quality. In this connection the Union of Writers of Belarus offered to analyse contents of books, published in the republic.
The prime minister ordered to monitor sort and amount of literature that public libraries need. It’s possible that 1 or 2 copies of, for example, an encyclopaedia are needed, not 10 ones, Syarhei Sidorski said.
Alexander Lisovski wins gold at world track cycling championship
The 22-year old athlete left behind Wim Stroetinga from the Netherlands and Roger Kluge from Germany.
The young Belarusian claimed the first personal victory at such prestigious event. Previously only Natalia Tsilinskaya, eight-time world cycle racing champion, managed to win gold for Belarus. Tsilinskaya, competing in her last season, crashed and broke her collar bone in the woman's sprint. She is expected to recover in time for the Biejing Olympics this summer.
It is remarkable that a more experienced Vasiliy Kirienko was to take part in the scratch. But instead he participated in the 40000m team sprint.
On the first day of the competition Natalia Tsilinskaya, the most titled cyclist of Belarus, was only 8th in the 500Heat. The golden medal went to Lisandra Guerra from Cuba, the silver – to Simona Krupeckaite from Lithuania; the bronze was claimed by Sandie Clair from France.
During the five days of the championship the sportsmen will compete for 18 sets of medals and the remaining Olympic licenses.
The main hopes of Belarusians are still connected with Natalia Tsilinskaya. She is to take part in the 200m sprint (March 28) and keirin (March 30).
Vasiliy Kirienko will compete for the medal in the team sprint (March 28), and Alexander Lisovski will compete in the non-Olympic programme – omnium. It includes the 200m sprint, 5000m scratch, 3000m individual pursuit, 15000m team sprint, and 1000m final.
Another three Belarusian athletes will participate in the non-Olympic sports March 28. They are Oksana Popko, Elena Omeliusik and Tatiana Sharakova.
Belarus, Russia will continue integration after change of power in Russia, Vadim Popov says
“I am sure that there are no insurmountable obstacles in further development of the bilateral relations,” the Belarusian Speaker said. This can be attested to by the sessions of the Supreme State Council and the Council of Ministers of the Union State.
For the first time the budget was adopted before the beginning of the new financial year, the budget being 10% bigger than last year. The bilateral trade hit $26 billion. The two countries have been pursing joint programmes which are mainly high-tech projects.
“I believe that after the change of power in Russia the formation of the Union State will be continued. The Belarusian and Russian integration will be piecemeal, consistent and will be growing stronger,” Vasim Popov considers.