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Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pensioners given discount, Dzen Sobotnik, Persian Gulf countries, foreign trade up, Russia, Ukrain, Polish scandal, Economy, Opposition and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #301

    Pensioners given 50% discount on suburban transport tickets for summer season

    From: The office of the president
    On 19 April, President Alexander Lukashenko participated in the nation-wide day of voluntary clean-up work (subbotnik). The Head of State worked at the construction site of the multi-purpose Minsk-Arena Cultural and Sports Complex.
    On 21 April, as part of system-based efforts to provide state support to the persons who have reached their retirement age (for men this is 60 years, for women 55 years), the President of the Republic of Belarus signed Decree No 227 envisaging provision of social support to this category of Belarusian citizens.

    For the period of seasonal sowing and harvest campaigns, from 1 May until 1 October, 2008, pensioners will be entitled to a 50 per cent discount on the price of tickets for a journey by railway, water and motor general-use suburban-service public transport (except for taxi).

    The Decree provides for no special mechanism of purchasing tickets: it will be possible for the afore-mentioned citizens to buy them at conventional ticket offices against their retirement certificates.

    The Decree becomes effective on the day of its official publication – from 22 April, 2008.

    President Alexander Lukashenko wants construction of production facilities in rural areas to be made less expensive

    President Alexander Lukashenko wants construction of production facilities in rural areas to be made less expensive. “Local executives’ initiative should not be stifled; they will decide for themselves how to construct,” said President Alexander Lukashenko today while visiting the Melyakhi dairy farm of the V.A. Baum Agricultural Company, the Ivye district.

    The Head of State deems it necessary to revive the practice of construction in rural areas using force-account construction methods. He tasked the governors and chairmen of district executive committees go through all their projects once again in order to make the construction of production facilities in rural areas less expensive.

    President expresses official thanks to Belarusian Physical and Sports Society "Dinamo"

    Official thanks of the President of the Republic of Belarus has been expressed to the staff of the republican state and public association “Belarusian Physical and Sports Society Dinamo”. The relevant Executive Order was signed by the Head of State on 21 April.

    This high praise has been given to Dinamo in recognition of the achievements it made in developing and promoting military-applied and agency-applied sports, working with students of youth sports schools and training them into remarkable and promising athletes, and in connection with the 85th anniversary of its founding.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    More than 3,5 million people take part in voluntary clean-up day

    From: BelTA
    More than 3.5million people took part in the nationwide clean-up day on April 19, BelTA was told in the council of Ministers Office.

    More than Br13.89 billion was earned. The output of industrial products was equal to almost Br25.22 billion; contractor works Br6.77 billion.

    According to the Council of Ministers Office, 685 thousand people took part in the voluntary clean-up day in Minsk, 488 thousand in the Brest oblast, 455 thousand in Vitebsk oblast, 428 thousand in the Grodno oblast, 580 thousand in the Gomel oblast, 451 thousand in Minsk oblast, 430 thousand in the Mogilev oblast.

    Minsk earned Br5685.1 million, Brest oblast Br1384.9 million, Vitebsk Br1473.4 million, Gomel Br2001 million, Grodno oblast Br1007.8 million, Minsk oblast Br1139.3 million, Mogilev oblast Br1200.3 million.

    More so, the companies and organizations of Minsk manufactured Br8633.5 million worth of products, Brest oblast Br2530.6 million, Vitebsk Br2001.5 million, Gomel Br2100 million, Grodno Br1533.7 million, Minsk oblast Br5637.1 million and Mogilev oblast Br2779.8 million worth of products.

    Subbotnik(from Wiki)

    Subbotnik and voskresnik (from Russian words суббота [subbota] for Saturday and воскресенье [voskrisenye] for Sunday) were days of volunteer work in the Soviet Union. The tradition is continued in modern Russia. Subbotniks are mostly organized for cleansing the streets of garbage.

    The first subbotnik was held on April 12, 1919, at the Moscow-Sortirovochnaya railway depot of the Moscow-Kazan Railway upon the initiative of local bolsheviks.

    The first all-Russian subbotnik was held on May 1, 1920, the one participated by Vladimir Lenin who took part in removing building rubble in the Moscow Kremlin, an episode portrayed in a famous painting by Vladimir Krikhatsky, Lenin at the First Subbotnik, of Lenin carrying a log. Lenin was excited by the idea of subbotniks, regarding them as seeds of free labour of communism.

    Eventually "communist subbotniks" and "voskresniks" became obligatory political events in the Soviet Union, with annual "Lenin's Subbotnik" being held in the vicinity of Lenin's birthday.

    Subbotnik was also promoted in the 1950s in the Eastern Bloc countries and in particular in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as the USSR sought to build up the GDR as the westernmost outpost of socialism in Europe. They did not meet with much enthusiasm from most workers who complained of the need to work during weekends.

    Belarus considers relations with Persian Gulf countries as very important, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus considers the relations with the Persian Gulf countries as very important, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov noted during his meeting with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain Nezar Al-Baharnah.

    In turn, the Bahreini Minister of State for Foreign Affairs noted that the Kingdom of Bahrain is open to fruitful cooperation in different areas and it is ready to conclude new bilateral agreements.

    Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain Nezar Al-Baharnah is in Belarus on a four-day visit (April 20-24).

    The Republic of Belarus and the Kingdom of Bahrain established diplomatic relations on July 1, 1996. In May 1999 the Belarusian governmental delegation led by the Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Foreign Affairs paid a visit to Bahrain.
    In October 2002 the state Belarusian delegation led by President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visited the Kingdom of Bahrain. The level of trade between the two countries is not significant now. In 1997-2007 Belarus mainly exported MAZ trucks and spare parts for them, bearings, printed goods, measurement devices and fertilisers to Bahrain.

    In line with the agreement signed between the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences and the Bahreini Research Centre in March 2004, the two sides will carry out the joint programmes on sci-tech cooperation in agriculture and fertilisers blends production and also in the sphere of chemistry, energy and sun energy use, technologies transfer and humanitarian sciences.

    Bahraini businessmen to visit Belarus soon

    A delegation of the Bahraini business circles is going to visit Belarus in the near future, Sergei Martynov, the Foreign Minister of Belarus told reporters after the meeting with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain Nezar Al-Baharnah on April 22.

    According to the Foreign Minister of Belarus, the two parties mulled over the whole range of relations between the two countries. “We are interested in Bahrain to be one of those countries Belarus has friendly and serious relations with,” Sergei Martynov underlined.

    During the forthcoming visit the Bahraini businessmen will be able to get familiar with the structure of the Belarusian economy to outline cooperation areas. “We suppose it will be sci-tech cooperation, education, medicine and tourism,” the Minister of State of Bahrain informed. The Foreign Minister of Belarus noted that the two countries also intend to collaborate in the international arena, in combating human trafficking in particular.

    Mr. Nezar Al-Baharnah did not rule out large investments of the Bahraini capital in the Belarusian economy. “The final decision will be made by sole traders,” he said.

    Belarus foreign trade 62.8% up in January-February

    From: BelTA
    In January-February 2008, Belarusian foreign trade in goods and services totaled $11.5 billion, 62.8% up over the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    Exports grew 72.3% to reach $5.7 billion, imports went up by 54.3% to $5.8 billion. Belarus trade deficit made up $20.6 million (the 2008 projections are a $1400-1420 million deficit).

    The ministry noted that against January-February 2007 average export prices grew 39.1%, import prices – 25.1%.

    Foreign trade in goods in January-February 2008 made up $10.657 billion, including exports of $5,148 billion and imports of $5,509 billion. Exports of goods in actual prices grew 78% as against January-February 2007, imports – 55.1%.

    The major reason of foreign trade deficit was export-import operations with energy goods. In January-February 2008, the country imported $4.319 billion worth of energy products (a 1.8-time growth as against the same time last year) and exported $3.731 billion worth of products (a two-time growth). Energy carriers trade deficit totaled $416 million, $53.7 million up from January-February 2007.

    In January-February 2008, the country reached trade surplus in investment goods - $238,8 million (in January-February 2007 trade deficit made up $47,7 million). Trade surplus was reached due to the growth of exports of tractors and truck tractors ($79.4 million up), harvesters and equipment ($42.3 million up) and trucks ($38 million up).

    In January-February 2008, the country’s trade deficit in consumer goods totaled $12,5 million as against $82,4 million in January-February 2007. Due to the increased supplies of cheese and curd, milk and cream, beef, sugar, butter, the exports of foodstuffs exceeded imports in January-February 2008.

    Foreign trade in services in January-February 2008 reached $893 million, 29,7% up from the same period 2007. Exports of services grew 33,2% up to $591,1 million, imports – 23,4% up to $301,9 million.

    Belarus’ gas transportation 19.2% up in Q1

    In January-March 2008, gas transportation via Belarusian pipelines totaled 18.2 billion cubic meters, 19.2% up over the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In Q1 2008 the country pumped 21.8 million tonnes of oil, 98% to January-March 2007.

    Gas is transported through Beltransgaz networks and the gas pipeline Yamal-Europe.

    Belarus invests more than $1bln in projects abroad in 2007

    In 2007, Belarus invested more than $1046 million in projects abroad, First Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko told a session of the Council of Ministers of Belarus.

    Investing in foreign countries is “an important goal to increase property abroad as a strategic factor of foreign trade expansion”, the First Vice Premier noted. Developed countries try to balance this process. So Belarus should follow suit and take a broader look at the problem from the point of view of inevstment, he noted.

    The greatest number of funds (63.3%) was invested in non-CIS countries, 36.7% - in the CIS countries including 35.7% in Russia, Vladimir Semashko noted. The Industry Ministry of Belarus invested the greatest number of funds - $439.1 million. They were invested in 21 assembly productions and distribution network development. On the whole, Belarus abroad is represented by 249 facilities of commodity distribution network with Belarusian investments in 25 countries.

    The First Deputy Prime Minister also noted that in 2007 Belarus attracted $5.4 billion foreign investments.

    New tractors “Belarus” displayed at Tartu exhibition

    From: BelTA
    New models of tractors “Belarus” have been displayed in Tartu at the 16th international agricultural exhibition MAAMESS-2008.

    The exposition of the Belarusian farm machines prepared by the MTZ official dealer in Estonia, the firm Turi Bel-Est, occupied one of the biggest grounds, BelTA learnt from Consul General of Belarus to Tallinn Alexander Ostrovsky. The exposition was attended by Minister of Agriculture of Estonia Helir-Valdor Seeder.

    During MAAMESS-2008, one of the largest exhibitions in the Baltic countries, the Consul General met with the authorities of the Turi Bel-Est Company. The two sides mulled over the execution of the direct contracts on the delivery of the Belarusian farm machines to Estonia.

    The MTZ products are in high demand among the Estonian farms. According to the official Estonian statistics, today almost every third tractor purchased in the country comes from Belarus.

    The exhibition that showcased models of the renowned agricultural producers was attended by over 150 companies from eight companies.

    BelAZ rolls out 1200 55-tonne rock haulers

    Inarelatedstory,Belarusian Autoworks has assembled another rock hauler with the payload capacity of 55 tonnes, bringing the total to 1,200, BelAZ representatives told BelTA.

    The rock hauler is designed to transport loose rock mass along technologic roads during open pit mining in various climates. It is also used for major civil engineering projects and in various industries.

    The company assembled 55-tonne rock hauler No 1,000 in June 2007. These vehicles are very popular with customers. They are always perfected and upgraded. The company now manufactures new models of the truck.

    BelAZ has also increased the total number of assembled 220-tonne rock haulers to 250. The company actually uses discrete parts practices in manufacturing these trucks. In 2007 BelAZ designed a new modification of the 220-tonne model.

    In Q1 2008 BelAZ’ production growth rate amounted to 115.5% as against the same period of last year.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus exports its radioactive mushrooms to EU, says official

    From: M&C
    Tons of radioactive mushrooms are routinely exported from Belarus to European Union nations, a Belarusian official said Monday.

    Relatively high EU maximums for mushroom contamination by isotopes of Strontium, a radioactive element, make 'substantial volumes' of fungus illegal for consumption in Belarus but a saleable delicacy in the West, said Yakov Kenigsberg, chairman of Belarus' National Commission for Radioactive Protection.

    The former Soviet republic was badly hit by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident, and an estimated one quarter of its territory contains lingering effects from the nuclear reactor meltdown.

    Thick forests and swamps prevalent in Belarus are ideal conditions for mushrooms, and local businessmen are doing a thriving business collecting Belarusian mushrooms and selling them largely to Polish traders, Kenigsberg claimed.

    'The Poles are buying Chanterelles containing high dosages of radiation, because in the EU these mushrooms are not considered radioactive,' he said.

    Belarusian standards of acceptable radiation are among the world's most stringent, in large part in response to fallout from the Chernobyl accident.

    Mushrooms are relatively resistant to lingering radiation, absorbing deadly gamma rays rather than dying from them.

    The most tradeable mushroom is, according to Kenigsberg, the Golden Chanterelle (Latin: Cantharellus Subalbidus), an orange or yellow mushroom known for a fruity smell and mild peppery taste.

    Trade between Poland and Belarus is limited primarily to small- scale import and export, frequently with Belarusian agricultural or forest products exchanged for Polish consumer goods.

    Tower collapses in Belarusian castle-prison

    From: Earth Times
    A tower collapsed in a castle used as a prison by the Belarusian government, Belapan news agency reported on Monday. The western bastion of the Pishchalovskiy fortress, a 19th century brick-and-mortar fortress in Minsk, crashed down shortly after midnight.

    The collapse of the 30-metre tower was audible throughout Minsk's Romanov neighbourhood, a low-rent industrial district. The massive building of formerly four circular towers, is one of the most visible structures in the region.

    No one was injured in the collapse, and no prisoners escaped, a prison official said.

    Illegal modifications to the tower by the prison administration, and lack of proper maintenance to the 19th century structure, were the most likely causes of the collapse, said Anton Astapovich, a government cultural conservation official.

    Oleg Slepchenko, an Interior Ministry spokesman, confirmed the western tower of the prison had crumbled, but declined further comment.

    The Pishchalovskiy fortress was purpose-built in 1825 to incarcerate prisoners of the state. The Gothic-style castle, complete with a curtain wall and crenelations, is still used by Belarus' authoritarian government as a penitentiary.

    A state commission reviewing the building's foundations in 2004 said the prison's walls and towers were in need of emergency repair.

    Money was unavailable for the project, sparking news reports the next year that the prison would be sold to foreign developers and re- opened as a hotel. No investor was found.

    Council of Ministers of Belarus-Russia Union State to discuss more that 10 issues

    From: NLIPRB
    The Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State is expected to discuss more than ten issues at a session, which is scheduled to take place in Moscow in June 2008, BelTA was told in the Office of the Union State Permanent Committee in Minsk.

    The session will focus on the implementation of the resolutions passed by the Belarus-Russia Union State, execution of the 2007 budget and main parameters of the budget in 2009, Top-Priority Border Infrastructure Accomplishment Programme and implementation of the project on development of the unified transport system in 2006-2007.

    The Council of Ministers will also review the course of implementation of the programme on launching series production of high-powered agricultural vehicles on the base of the 200hp-450hp universal vehicle in 2006-2009.

    The session participants will discuss the concept of social development of the Belarus-Russia Union State until 2010, bilateral pilot projects on rehabilitation of contaminated agricultural areas.

    The Council of Ministers will examine results of the joint programme “Very large-scale IC”, and discuss proposals on the programme on development of nanotechnologies, materials, gadgets and space-based technologies.

  • From the Opposition...

    Court to announce verdict on the “case against the 14” tomorrow at 11 a.m.

    From: Viasna
    Today Centralny court of Minsk continued to consider the criminal case against the democratic youth activists charged with offence under Article 342 part 2 of the Criminal Code – “Organizing or active participation in group actions that seriously violate the public order”. The court heard the last pleas of the defendants. The verdict will be announced on April 22nd, at 11 a.m.

    The prosecutor demanded to sentence Andrei Kim, activist of the youth group Initsyatyva, also accused under Art. 364 of the Criminal Code (“Violence or a threat of violence towards a policeman”) to 2 years of imprisonment. He also asked to punish Aliaksei Bondar, Artsiom Dubski, and Mikhail Pashkevich with 2 years of restriction of freedom; and others – with 2.5 years of correctional labor without sending them to penitentiary institutions.

    Also, on April 22nd Maskouski court of Minsk will begin trial over the leader of Vitebsk entrepreneurs Siarhei Parsiukevich.

    Police seize leaflets for Chernobyl March

    On April 21st Frunzenski district police seized 30,000 leaflets for the Chernobyl March, permitted by the authorities.

    Activists of the Movement for Freedom were detained for stickers which invited citizens to join the march. Frunzenski district police drew up report about seizure of the printed materials despite the fact that the action was permitted by the authorities. According to the police, the stickers were seized for checking the publisher of the materials.

    Members of Vitebsk BPF Youth fail to get recommendations for university

    On April 21st youth activists of BPF party Aliaksandar Kuzniatsou, Yulia Mikhailava, and Viktoria and Christina Chyzh went for an interview for university entrants who plan to study law in Vitebsk pedagogical university. None of the BPF Youth members received recommendations.

    “We were asked why we want to become lawyers, -- Aliaksandar Kuzniatsou, leader of local BPF Youth, says. – We said we were concerned about human rights violations in Belarus, politically-motivated arrests, and persecutions of students. They told us, we would not receive recommendations. That proves, that people dissenting with the “general” opinion are not even allowed to take entrance exams”.

    Lukashenka won’t get money

    From: Charter '97
    The former political prisoner, Doctor of Medicine Yury Bandazheuski, is set to change the direction of financial flows of European aid to Belarus for overcoming aftermaths of Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, and has received support of European deputies in that.

    As we have informed, before the week-end non-governmental mass-media of Belarus informed that a conference was held in the European parliament. Its topic was a policy of Belarus in liquidation of aftermaths of Chernobyl catastrophe. In the declaration adopted summing up the results of the discussion, it is stated that Europe should help Belarus in this problem, but without cooperation with he regime. In the statement, the EP noted the need to launch independent funding channels to fund the rehabilitation of radioactively-contaminated areas in Belarus and make the channels secure from abuses on the part of the Belarusian “authoritarian regime,” “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” writes.

    It was stated during the discussion that Belarusian citizens are unaware of the truthful information about the situation in areas affected by the disaster and consequences of the disaster. Those affected do not receive necessary social protection and medial aid. To improve the situation, it has been offered to set an international scientific and research center “Ecology and Health” in Lithuania, and an international syndicate of assistance to former Chernobyl cleanup workers.

    According to reports, Doctor of Medicine Yury Bandazheuski initiated to start discussion of Chernobyl problem. Yury Bandazheuski, former rector of the Homel Medical Institute in Belarus (until 2001), was a researcher on effects of low doses of radiation on human health. He has written more than 200 works on the topic, stating that Belarusian regime understates aftermaths of the Chernobyl disaster. In 1999 Bandazheuski was arrested, and in 2001 he was convicted for bribery and sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment. After a conditional early release he worked in France, and then moved to Lithuania. “Amnesty International” recognized him a prisoner of conscience. Mr. Bandazheuski has a Freedom Passport, which allows him to live in any country of the EU. He actively brings up the topic of Chernobyl disaster, as he believes that with time it gets forgotten unjustly.

    In February this year Yury Bandazheuski sent an open letter to Belarusian media. He stated that the health of the nation is under threat because of the Belarusian regime’s irresponsibility. Belarusian citizens continue to be exposed to radiation from food, which causes increase of number of cardiovascular diseases.

    Even then he said that the European Parliament approved his idea of creating a scientific and research center of ecology and health. The center is to continue studying influence of radiation on human body, and elaborate concrete measures for solving existing problems. It was said in the letter that Lithuanian government raise no objections to its siting in Vilnius.

    Prosecutor demands two-year prison sentence for Andrey Kim, two-year “restricted freedom” terms for opposition youths charged with public disorder

    From: Naveny
    Prosecutor Andrey Ramashewski on Monday called for a two-year prison sentence for opposition youth Andrey Kim and for two-year “restricted freedom” terms for nine more people facing charges over a January 10 demonstration staged by sole entrepreneurs and sympathizers in Minsk.

    A total of 13 youths had been charged with “active participation in group actions grossly disturbing the public peace” under Part 1 of the Criminal Code’s Article 342 in connection with the demonstration, which was staged in protest against the government’s crackdown on small business owners.

    The trial of nine of them – Mikhail Pashkevich, Alyaksey Bondar, Uladzimir Syarheyew, Artsyom Dubski, Ales Straltsow, Ales Charnyshow, Anton Koypish, Mikhail Kryvaw and Tatsyana Tsishkevich – started in Minsk’s Tsentralny District Court on April 16. The trial of the remaining four – Alyaksandr Barazenka, Pavel Vinahradaw, Mikhail Subach and under 18-year-old Maksim Dashuk – was postponed to a later date, as it turned out that they had not yet finished studying the case material.

    Apart from disorder in the streets, the 22-year-old Kim was charged under Article 364 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes “violence or threats of violence against a police officer.” Traffic police officer Ihar Sychow alleged at a court hearing last week that Mr. Kim had punched him in the face with his right fist. The charge stems from a similar demonstration staged on January 21.

    The prosecutor said on April 21 that the guilt of the accused had been proven in full during the trial following testimony given by police officers and a screening of video evidence.

    He also demanded that the accused pay slightly more than 12 million rubels in compensation to Minsk’s transport operators. Authorities insist that the demonstration disrupted traffic in downtown Minsk.

    The defense team expressed objections to the accusation. “This trial is aimed at intimidating the young people who are in the dock, but this will be impossible to do,” defense counsel Alyaksandr Haliyew said. “The result of the trial will be directly contrary.”

    He said that the police officers’ testimony was conflicting and the video footage shown in court contained cuts.

    Mr. Haliyew asked the judge to acquit the youths.

    A ruling in the case was expected to be announced later on Monday.

    Mr. Kim has been held in jail since January 21 and is kept in a cage in the courtroom during hearings. The other defendants remain free on their own recognizance. If found guilty as charged, they may be sentenced to three years in prison and Mr. Kim to up to six years.

    More than 3,000 people took part in the January 10 demonstration. They staged a rally on Kastrychnitskaya Square and marched along Independence Avenue to the House of Government on Independence Square where they dispersed several hours later. Almost 30 people were arrested and 23 of them were convicted under the Administrative Offenses Code.

  • Around the region...

    Russia Takes a Charter to Iran

    From: Kommersant
    Kommersant has learned that, during a session of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Tehran on April 28, Russia will present a draft charter for that organization, which it has long dreamed of turning into a “gas OPEC.” Moscow's formulation of the tasks and goals of the GECF is softer than Iran's proposal, which was similar to the charter of OPEC. The organization is to become an international platform for the development of a formula for the price of gas and discussion of routes for new pipelines. Experts say it will be hard for the potential participants in the gas OPEC to agree among themselves. That means that the June forum in Moscow may not be a success.
    Russian-Style Cartel

    A source in the Russian government told Kommersant that a draft charter of the GECF was sent to the appropriate agencies of the 15 member states late last week. According to the source, the document was authored by the Ministry of Industry and Energy and Gazprom at the end of last year and spent three months being conciliated in the ministries. A Gazprom spokesman confirmed on Friday that “A draft charter is being discussed. It is to be considered at the next ministerial session of the GECF.” The charter is the first in the process started last autumn of turning the GECF from an amorphous entity into a powerful gas suppliers' lobby along the lines of OPEC.

    According to information obtained by Kommersant, the draft charter will be presented by Deputy Minister of Industry and Energy Anatoly Yanovsky at a high-level GECF committee session in Tehran on April 28. Yanovsky himself declined to comment. Another Kommersant informant commented that the nature of its developers shaped the nature of the document, which proposes the necessity of creating an international platform for development of a universal formula for the price of gas, the use of spot deliveries with the goal compensating for shortages of volume in the course of fulfilling long-term contracts, determination of the expediency of the construction of new gas pipelines taking account of the forecast risk.”

    The GECF was first held in Tehran in 2001. He does not have a charter, exact membership system or permanent representation in any country. Algeria, Bolivia, Brunei, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela continually take part in GECF sessions, and Turkmenistan has participated in some. Norway is considered an observer. The official goal of the organization is the development of mutual understanding between producers and consumers and governments and industrial sectors connected with energy and the creation of a stable and transparent fuel market. At the last forum, in Doha, the GECF member states agreed to form a committee on a high level that would meet every two months to discuss gas trade issues. It was also decided that the next forum would meet in Moscow in 2008.

    A Gazprom spokesman explained that details on the platform for dialog are still ”in the discussion stage.” Apparently, Moscow is expecting members of the transformed GECF to coordinate gas prices and agree on the routes of new gas pipelines. Gazprom and the Ministry of Industry and Energy deny that there will be nay analogy between GECF and OPEC, however. “We do not need a cartel agreement,” the source claimed.
  • More...

    Over 110 aircraft to take part in CIS command-and-staff drill

    From: RIANovosti
    command-and-staff exercise on April 22 led by the Joint Air Defense Force, a senior Russian military official said Monday.

    "Over 20 scenarios will be rehearsed, designed at strengthening the air space of CIS countries - Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan," said Lt.Gen. Vadim Volkovitsky, deputy commander of the Russian Air Force.

    He said command of the drill will be provided by Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin, Russian Air Force chief, from the Central Command and Control Post.

    More than 10 missile, air defense, anti-aircraft, and electronic warfare units will rehearse missions to protect the air space around Moscow and the Central Federal District.

    MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker fighters will practice interception missions.

    V4, Ukrainian, Swedish foreign ministers to meet in Prague

    From: Prague Monitor
    A meeting of the foreign ministers of the Visegrad Four countries (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland) will take place in Prague this week with the participation of their counterparts from Sweden and Ukraine who were invited as guests, the Czech Foreign Ministry press department told CTK Friday.

    The ministers will discuss regional cooperation between the EU and east European countries.

    "The future of the EU and its neighbouring countries will be the main topic and an emphasis will be put on the current situation in Ukraine, Serbia and Belarus," the ministry said.

    The independence of Kosovo will probably also be one of the questions on the agenda since there is no united view on the recognition of its independence even among the V4 countries.

    While Poland has recognised the independent Kosovo, Slovakia is against the recognition. The Czech Republic and Hungary have adopted the wait-and-see position but tend to recognising the new Kosovo.

    The politicians will probably also discuss the EU rotating presidency. Prague will take the EU presidency in the first half of next year, followed by Sweden. The two countries are coordinating their priorities and the preparation, along with France that will hold the EU presidency six months ahead of the Czech Republic.

    The representatives of the V4 countries, Ukraine and Sweden will also talk about the results of the recent NATO summit in Bucharest. Ukraine hoped that the Alliance would invite it to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the summit, which is a step towards the admission in the Alliance.

    This did not happen because Germany and France were opposed to it mainly for the fear, as is generally believed, not to unnecessarily irritate Russia.

    The NATO representatives, however, have made it clear to Ukraine and Georgia that they could count with NATO membership in the future.

    Bilateral meetings between the individual countries' foreign ministers can be expected to take place during the Prague meeting.

    The Declaration on cooperation on the path to European integration was signed between the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland in the Hungarian town of Visegrad in 1991.

    After Czechoslovakia's division in 1993 the Visegrad Three has turned into the Visegrad Four.

    Many meetings of the V4 presidents, prime ministers, ministers and chief of staffs as well as consultations of the four countries' supreme courts have taken place since then.

    The cooperation stagnated in the mid-1990s and only in 1998 the countries' prime ministers agreed to renew it, which happened at a summit in Bratislava in 1999

    "Gazprom oil" will approve program of strategic development up to 2020.

    From: Analytical Information Agency
    OJSC "Gazprom oil" in the summer of the current year will approve the program of strategic development up to 2020. The head of the department of oil chemistry and liquefied hydrocarbon gases of "Gazprom oil" Roman Efimychev informed it to journalists.

    The program of development includes all directions of activity of the company: oil extracting, oil refining and oil chemistry, purchase of new actives, merges and absorption, construction of a new ORF.

    "Gazprom oil" is the fifth company in the Russian Federation on volumes of oil recovery. Its proved stocks under classification SEC for the end of 2006 made 514mln ton, under classification SPE - 601.8mln ton. Under results of 2006 the consolidated oil recovery decreased down 1.7% to 44.4mln ton. The net profit in 2006 grew up 47% to 62.829bln rbl. from 42.489bln rbl., the proceeds - up 37% to 374.776bln rbl. from 273.086bln rbl. The net profit under US GAAP grew up 31% to $3.661bln from $2.805bln in 2005. The investment program of the Company for 2007 makes 64.4bln rbl.

    The basic shareholder of the company is Gazprom which in October, 2005 bought 72.66% of shares for $13.079bln, having increased its share up 75.68%. 20% of shares of "Gazprom oil" in May of the current year during the tenders on sale of the property of UKOS OJSC "EniNeftegaz" bought.

    OJSC "Gazprom oil" in 2007 extracted 32.7mln ton of oil, that practically corresponds to parameters of 2006.

    "Gazprom oil" borrows the 8th place in the "Leading enterprises of Russia" rating under results of 2006, presented by the rating agency AK&M in October, 2007.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Police:Polish priest was naked

    From: Liverpool Leader
    TWO pairs of undies were among the items shown to police during the obscene exposure hearing of a Polish priest.

    The Rev Father Wieslaw Pawlowski, 40, has pleaded not guilty to sunbaking naked in Miller Park one Saturday morning last September.

    Defence barrister Geoffrey Foster showed a pair of white briefs and a grey pair of G-string briefs to Constable Gregory Hollingworth in Liverpool Court on Monday.

    Mr Foster suggested Father Pawlowski was wearing the G-string and sunbaking under the cover of long grass.

    Constable Hollingworth said Father Pawlowski ``appeared to be naked'' and hurriedly put on a pair of white underwear as he and another officer approached.

    He denied Father Pawlowski was hidden by tall grass and said Father Pawlowski was sunbaking on a banana lounge on cut grass.

    During the arrest, one of the officers asked Father Pawlowski why he was sunbaking and he allegedly replied: ``The sun is good for my skin. I have to sunbake to stay healthy.''

    As well as arguing that he was wearing the G-string, Father Pawlowski's defence is expected to include evidence that he needs to sunbake regularly to receive adequate levels of vitamin D.

    The prosecution case will continue before magistrate Janet Wahlquist in September.

    Romanian foreign minister tenders resignation after Polish scandal

    From: Trends
    Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Cioroianu tendered his resignation Friday following criticism that he failed to act decisively after the death of a Romanian citizen in Poland.

    Bucharest media levelled heavy criticism at both Cioroianu and Romanian diplomats at their country's Warsaw embassy after the Romanian died following a hunger strike.

    Prime Minister Calin Popescu was among those critical of Cioroianu, and has demanded an inquiry into the affair. Cioroianu, a historian, has been in office for just over a year.
  • Note: Being held prisenor in Poland can do that to you.

    Comarch says CEO innocent, blasts prosecutors

    From: Reuters
    Polish IT company Comarch COMH.WA said on Wednesday that charges against its chief executive Janusz Filipiak were groundless, and his detention at the weekend by Polish judicial authorities was overzealous.

    Filipiak was briefly detained on Saturday, and prosecutors charged him with breaking employment law related to a footballer's contract at a soccer club he controls.

    "Professor Filipiak pleads not guilty (to) the pressed charges and has already appealed against them and against the proceedings of the Krakow District Attorney (prosecutor) office," Comarch said in a statement.

    Filipiak's case coincides with but is unrelated to an official investigation of a game-rigging scandal engulfing many Polish soccer clubs.

    Comarch said some media unfairly presented Filipiak's detention as linked to the scandal. The company accused the prosecutors of a witch hunt against Polish businessmen.

    "The case seems to be ... one of many show-off cases by the Polish Public Attorney's Office in recent years, all of which resulted in disgrace for the Attorney's office and prompted apologies to the unjustly detained businessmen," it said.

    Polish prosecutors have been embarrassed in recent years when high-profile arrests of prominent businessmen have resulted in failure to bring charges or been thrown out by courts.

    The prosecutor could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Comarch shares dropped as much as 8 percent on Monday but have since regained some ground. They closed at 106.6 zlotys on Wednesday, up 0.4 percent on the day.

    Filipiak and his wife hold nearly 68 percent of Comarch, which he founded in 1993.

    "This ... incident has no relation whatsoever to Comarch, and it does not impact in any way on Comarch's business operations," the Krakow-based group said.

    Sick Polish drug smuggler avoids extradition

    A POLISH drug smuggler has won a temporary reprieve in moves to extradite him to Poland to complete a two-year jail sentence.

    Extradition proceedings against Grzegorz Kmita, aged 28, of Packham Road, Gravesend, were adjourned until May 14 because Kmita's wife is expecting a baby.

    Speaking at Westminster Magistrates' Court last Wednesday, Judge Daphne Wickham said Kmita's forthcoming medical test results for a bowel problem were another reason to delay proceedings.

    Kmita was granted bail on the condition he continues living at his address and reports to police twice a week.
  • Note: According to medical specialists, packing plastic bags of heroin up one's rectum has been known to cause bowel problems.

  • Sport...

    Wenger Calm Over Hleb Rumours

    There have been persistent reports linking the Belarus super talent away for a summer departure from the Emirates ever since it became clear that the Gunners would be unable to sustain a challenge for silverware in the Premier League and Champions League this campaign. The list of Hleb suitors reads like veritable who's who of European football, with the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan and Barcelona all credited with an interest.

    "I believe Alex will stay but you cannot stop the rumours when players are in this type of situation," said Wenger in the face of the rumours. "But I want Hleb to stay like everybody else.”

    Hleb's season, in the meanwhile, could soon come to a premature end if the Footbal Association decide to ban him. The ex VfB Stuttgart star slapped Reading's Graeme Murty during Arsemal's 2-0 victory on Saturday, and while referee Peter Walton and his assistants missed the second-half incident, it was clearly captured on video and will almost certainly lead to some form of disciplinary action

    Arsenal's Hleb charged with violent conduct

    In a related story, Arsenal striker Alexander Hleb could miss the rest of the season through suspension after he was charged with violent conduct by the Football Association (FA) on Tuesday.

    The 26-year-old Belarus winger was involved in an off-the-ball clash with Reading captain Graeme Murty during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

    Hleb appeared to strike the Royals defender with his open hand, but the incident was missed by referee Peter Walton.

    The FA decided to take action after reviewing video footage.

    "The incident was not seen by referee Peter Walton," said an FA statement.

    "Having now watched video footage, Walton has informed the FA that, had he seen it, he would have shown Hleb a red card for violent conduct."

    If proven, Hleb could be banned for three matches, ruling him out of the games with Derby, Everton and finally Sunderland.

    Hleb has until Wednesday evening to respond to the charge, with a regulatory commission set to hear the case on Thursday.

    The potential loss of Hleb would be another blow to manager Arsene Wenger, who has seen his team's season unravel over the past eight weeks having at one stage looked well set for both the Premier League title and European glory.

  • Cultural scene...

    Belarus presents two films at Panevezys film festival

    From: BelTA
    “Chaklun and Rumba”
    Two films of Belarusian film makers (“Shield of the Homeland” by Denis Skvortsov and “Chaklun and Rumba” by Andrei Golubev) will be shown at the film festival “European Film Day and Night” in the Lithuanian town of Panevezys. At an opening ceremony, a representative of the Belarusian Embassy to Lithuania read a welcome letter from Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus to Lithuania Vladimir Drazhin.

    Director of the Cultural Centre “Garsas” Gene Puchinskene, who has organized the event, told BelTA that the Belarusian film “Shield of the Homeland”, which was demonstrated on the opening day, received a warm welcome. “The interest to the film was really big as it was made by our neighbors and the issues raised in the film are important for Lithuanians too,” she said.

    The fourth international festival of uncommercial movie “European Film Day and Night” has gathered film makers from 11 countries who will present 24 movies. The films are presented by the film makers, actors as well as embassy officials. Attending the festival are representatives from the Belarusian and Turkish Embassies, the Ambassador of Latvia and a big delegation from Germany.

    The festival will last by April 25.

    Graphic arts exhibition Art-line to take place in Minsk April 24

    An international graphic arts exhibition Art-line will open in Minsk in the National Library of Belarus on April 24, BelTA learnt from artist Fyodor Yastreb, the head of the gallery-exhibition department of the library.

    According to him, the exhibition will occupy three galleries of the National Library of Belarus – Rakurs, Labirint and Artium. The exposition will include over 160 works from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Armenia, Serbia and the Baltic states.

    Art-line is Fyodor Yastreb’s new project. The works to be showcased at the exhibition were selected at the international contest when they were assessed by a competent jury – well-known artists and art critics from Belarus, Serbia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Italy. The exhibition and the contest will be held on the yearly basis.

    Fyodor Yastreb noted that the major goal of the project is to introduce new names, demonstrate the graphic arts perspectives, its potential, opportunities, establish new creative contacts. Artists from Turkey and Japan are eager to partake at the next contest and exhibition.

    The exhibition Art-line will stay open till June 5.

  • Endnote...

    Final game of the First National Amateur Presidents cup Ice Hockey Tournament

    From: The office of the president
    On 20 April, the Palace of Sport in Minsk played host to the final round of the First National Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the prizes of the Presidential Sports Club.

    In the decisive game the team of the President of the Republic of Belarus defeated the ice hockey team of the Minsk region with the score 17:4 to become the winner of the tournament.

    Depicted here is Alexander Lukashenko scoring a goal