President visits Crowne Plaza Minsk Hotel, Largest harvest ever, UN assistance, Elections, Gas, Economics, Russia, Ukraine, Polish scandal and Sport
President Visits Crowne Plaza Minsk Hotel
From: BelTA and the Office of the President
|President Alexander Lukashenko visiting the Crowne Plaza Minsk Hotel|
This hotel complex is located on the site of the former Svisloch Hotel. It features 115 rooms for a total of 223 visitors, 2 presidential suites, a casino, restaurant, conference hall, spa saloon, fitness room, water-pool and other facilities.
Alexander Lukashenko visited the presidential suites, semi-lux-class and standard-class rooms, the restaurant, the conference hall, the disco hall and gave a positive assessment of the renovation and refurbishment carried out there. While visiting the casino, the Head of State said that strict rules should be applied in this type of entertainment establishments so as to prevent cheating.
The new hotel raised $34 million in investment. Alexander Lukashenko offered the Turkish investor Sudi Özkhan, President of the Princess Group, who invested in the renovation project, to fulfil more projects in Minsk.
Today, foreign investors participate in 8 projects involving the construction of new hotel complexes in Minsk; 10 projects more are now in the pipeline. The President said, “It is good that the investment projects are being carried out by different companies from different countries”.
The President said there was a need to speed up the consideration and decision-making process with regard to foreign investors’ proposals concerning construction projects in Minsk. “If they would like to build a business centre, why should there be delays? We get good complexes; it is beneficial to both sides. But one should not drag out the making of decisions; they should be taken swiftly,” said the President. When large-scale projects are carried out, one should not forget about the development of the social sector too, he added.
Belarus President: largest harvest ever
“Belarus has never had such a harvest in its history and we should gather it in. Today we have the purest grain. We’ve been investing heavily in agriculture and here is the payback,” said the President. “We mustn’t fail to gather in the harvest due to poor management and lack of organisation”.
Alexander Lukashenko remarked, though in some areas the grain is moist and needs drying, it should be gathered in as fast as possible anyway. “All the same it will be profitable. Getting not only bread, but meat and milk is the key thing at present,” said the head of state. He underscored, in view of the global food crisis “we can sell our meat and milk to the rich countries we buy gas and oil from”.
“I want the country to finally get profits from agriculture so that nobody could reproach us for wasting money,” added the President.
He also believes, with the large harvest it is possible to lay a stock of seeds to last for 2-3 years. “Every tonne of grain today is more precious than gold. If we lose the grain, we will be poor,” said the President.
Belarus harvests 2mln tonnes of grain
Belarus has harvested 2 million tonnes of grain, BelTA learnt from Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Foodstuffs Vasily Pugachev.
Some 323,900 tonnes of grain were harvested on July 31. The average yield is 35.8 centners per hectare, up 5.3 centners from last year.
According to the deputy minister, all regions of the country have a higher yield this year, up 4 or 5 centers from last year. The yield in the Grodno oblast is 9.3 centners higher. The success is due to the implementation of intensive cultivation technologies, introduction of additional mineral fertilisers, timely anti-weed treatment. “As a result we are getting the harvest equal to the one in 2004, a five-year record high,” Vasily Pavlovsky said.
According to the estimations, if the weather is good, the harvest campaign will be completed by August 22-23.
The Gomel oblast has harvested 45% of the cropping area. It is followed by the Brest oblast (30%), Grodno oblast (19%), Minsk (15%), Mogilev (14%), the Vitebsk oblast (6%).
Some 75,200 hectares, or 3.2% of the total area, were harvested on July 30. It started raining in some regions yesterday, which hampered the harvest campaign.
The gross harvest made up 1,677.400 tonnes. On July 30 the yield amounted to 280,000 tonnes. The Gomel oblast has already harvested 466,200 tonnes, Brest 386,500 tonnes, Minsk 307,400 tonnes, Grodno 292,400 tonnes, Mogilev 155,600 tonnes and Vitebsk oblast 69,000 tonnes.
The yield countrywide averages 35.4 centners per hectare, or 5 centners more than last year. The highest yield is in the Grodno oblast: 44.8 centners per hectare (8.6 centers more). The yield in the Brest oblast is 37 centners per hectare; in Mogilev almost 35 centners per hectare and 34 centners per hectare in the Minsk oblast.
Belarus welcomes UN assistance and partnership initiatives, Prime Minister says
Mr Antonius Broek presented Sergei Sidorsky the letters of credence from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who accredited him as UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus. He assured the Prime Minister of Belarus that he will do his best to make the cooperation with Belarus dynamic, innovative, fruitful.
In turn, Sergei Sidorsky said: “We are happy that the UN has sent an experienced, skilled professional to Belarus.” Belarus, one of the UN founders, will pay close attention to improving the United Nations country programmes, he said. One of Belarus’ priorities is to promote a UN flexible response system to the changing needs of the countries – aid recipients.
The Belarusian Prime Minister said that he had constructive, trustworthy relations with the outgoing UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Belarus, Cihan Sultanoglu. “Under her leadership the UN Office in Belarus acted as a reliable partner of the Belarusian government in promoting economic reforms, strengthening international technical aid for most important programmes including the international technical cooperation programme 2006-2010,” he said.
“We hope our cooperation will be strengthened further,” Sergei Sidorsky said.
Belarus has no plans to join UN Security Council as non-permanent member
Belarus is not planning to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member in the near-term perspective, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Viktor Gaisenok told a press conference in Minsk on July 31.
“Belarus is not going to raise this issue in the near-term perspective. But the issue will remain on the agenda,” he said. According to him, taking part in the UN main bodies including the Security Council is important for any country. “We follow the situation, consider the possibilities of participating in various elected bodies of the Organisation,” Viktor Gaisenok said.
UNDP carries out $70mn projects in Belarus in 2006-2010
Socio-economic projects at the amount of more than $70 million are being carried out under the UNDP country programme for Belarus (2006-2010), Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Viktor Gaisionok told a press conference in Minsk on July 31.
He noted that special attention is paid to enhancing the investment attractiveness of Belarus. Viktor Gaisionok took a special note of the projects in energy area: the use of alternative and renewable energy and local fuels, the development of nuclear energy. The deputy minister expressed hope that UNDP as a member of the UN group for energy issues will support Belarus’ initiative to conduct nonofficial debates of the UN General Assembly on the equal access of all the countries to alternative and renewable energy technologies .
According to Viktor Gaisionok, the cooperation of UNDP and Belarusian organizations in training and retraining of specialists in migration and counteracting human trafficking is promising.
Belarus intends to not only use UN resources but also to act as a donor. Belarus has great experience in counteracting TB and HIV, mitigating the consequences of irradiation pollution, migration problems and human trafficking, the deputy minister highlighted.
Despite the fact that the United Nations Organization pays special attention to developing countries where the population is at a low income level, the countries with medium income level should not be left overboard of the UN programme. “Such countries have their own specific problems which could not be solved without international help,” Viktor Gaisionok noted.
OSCE observers to arrive in Belarus August 11-12
“The first OSCE long-term observers will arrive in Belarus on August 11-12. They are likely to be members of a technical group. The OSCE long-term observers will start a full-fledged observation approximately on August 18,” she noted.
Lidia Yermoshina also said that 12 international observers from the CIS Executive Committee are already working in Belarus.
The CEC Chairperson is expecting about 700 international observers to come to Belarus.
Belarus’ CEC stipulates mass media access order for candidates for deputies
The Central Election Commission of Belarus stipulated the order of appearance candidates for deputies of the House of Representatives will make in mass media at a session on July 31.
A candidate can choose one of the following national newspapers to publish his election agenda: Zvyazda, Narodnaya Gazeta, Respublika, Belorusskaya Niva, as well as the oblast and region newspapers available in his constituency. Two days before the publication a candidate is supposed to submit a written application to the newspaper’s editorial office and notify the Central Election Commission. A newspaper publication cannot exceed 4,000 symbols with blank spaces. An election agenda must be submitted to an editorial office by September 7 at the latest.
Candidates are also supposed to make an appearance on radio and television. Registered in constituencies of Minsk and the oblast, candidates will be given air time by radio station Stolitsa, other candidates will be given air time by oblast radio companies.
TV speeches by Minsk candidates will be broadcast by Lad TV channel, Minsk oblast candidates — STV channel. Other candidates will be given air time by oblast TV companies.
Recorded radio speeches will be broadcast from 5 to 7 p.m., recorded TV speeches — from 5.30 till 6.30 p.m.
TV and radio companies are obliged to record and broadcast speeches and to notify viewers and listeners about the broadcasts in advance, with constituency numbers indicated.
Air time unused due to failures of a candidate will not be compensated.
Belarusian ruble gains against US dollar in January-July
Meanwhile, the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the Russian ruble went down by 3% to reach Br90.27 per one Russian ruble as of august 1.
Over the past seven months the official exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the euro fell by 4.2% to make up Br3,301.12 per one euro as of August 1
The monetary policy of the National Bank of Belarus remains focused on ensuring stability of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate to mitigate the intensity of inflation processes.
In line with the monetary guidelines of the Republic of Belarus, this year the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar is expected to fluctuate within a band plus/minus 2.5%. The exchange rate against US dollar may be between Br2,000 and Br2,200 per $1.
In 2009 the National Bank is going to peg the national currency to a system of foreign currencies which will make the Belarusian ruble more flexible against the US dollar. The Belarusian ruble is estimated to fluctuate 5% against US dollar next year. The move is envisaged in the draft monetary policy guidelines of Belarus for 2009. The increasing role of euro and Russian currency in foreign economic transactions makes the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against these currencies more important for the economy.
Belarus’ insurance fees up 45.7% in January-June
In January-June 2008, insurance companies of Belarus received Br450 billion worth of insurance and co-insurance premiums, up 45.7% on the same point last year, BelTA learnt from the Finance Ministry.
Voluntary insurance reached Br190.7 billion and accounted for 42.4% of the total. Compulsory insurance made up Br259.3 billion (57.6%).
According to the Finance Ministry, insurance coverage reached Br219.1 billion. Insurance compensation accounted for 48.7% of the H1 2008 volume of insurance premiums.
In January-June 2008, insurance transferring to the budget and non-budget funds totaled Br48.7 billion, of them Br26.5 billion – budget taxes and non-tax payments, Br22.2 billion – payments to the non-budget funds.
As of July 1, 2008, the average insurance staffing number made up 12001 people.
Belarus’ foreign trade up 58.5% in January-June
In January-June 2008, Belarus’ foreign trade in goods swelled by 58.5% in comparison with the same period last year to $36.76 billion, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis told BelTA.
Belarus’ export went up by 61.8% to reach $17.273 billion while the import increased by 55.7% to $19.488 billion. In January-June, a foreign trade deficit totaled $2.215 billion (the January-June 2007 deficit stood at $1.838 billion).
Belarus has been raising trade turnover with the CIS countries. For the six months of 2008, Belarus’ foreign trade in goods with the CIS increased by 62,8% to $21,223 billion. Export totaled $7,592 billion (up 54%), import - $13,631 billion (up 68,1%). The exports to the Russian Federation reached $5.58 billion, imports from Russia made up $12.432 billion, up 42% and 70.8% respectively over the same point a year ago. In January-June, the foreign trade in goods between Belarus and Russia grew 60.7% as against the same period last year to reach $18.012 billion.
In January-June, Belarus’ exports to Ukraine saw a dramatic growth: by 160.3% to $1.499 billion. Imports made up $1.031 billion (up 48.1%).
For the six months of 2008, Belarus’ trade with non-CIS countries surged 53.1% to $15.538 billion. Exports went upward 68.5% to $9.681, imports – 32.9% to $5.857 billion.
Belarus’ GDP growth to remain at 10-11% in 2009-2010
The government forecasts that the GDP will grow 10-11% in 2009-2010, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko told a press conference in Minsk on August 1.
“We have approached the point when further GDP growth is impossible if we do not put in operation additional capacities, manufacture new products,” Vladimir Semashko said. According to him, it is necessary to increase an inflow of capital investment. “Capital investment is not the end in itself. It is the means to maintain high GDP growth: at 10-12% annually. In 2009-2010 we project the same rate of economic growth,” the First Vice-Premier said.
In addition, Belarus has been implementing the innovation development programme which is aimed at creating hundreds of companies which also requires an inflow of investment.
In January- June 2008, capital investments in Belarus were up 23.9% over H1 2007. Foreign investments were up 2.8 times. Over the six months a total of $233.4 million was put in fixed capital from foreign sources.
Belarus Sets Up Media Council to Monitor Election Coverage
Private media outlets were not granted representation on the council, whose line-up changed little compared with the 2004 parliamentary elections, the 2006 presidential election and the 2007 local elections.
The council is authorized to provide advice to the media and recommend actions against violations by candidates of laws governing campaigning in the media.
The council also will handle disputes regarding media coverage that may arise during the campaign.
The council includes First Deputy Information Minister Liliya Ananich; Tatstsyana Byalova, director of the public press centre of the House of the Press; Mikhail Lyabedzik, first deputy editor of the government-controlled newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya; Ala Ryzhkevich, deputy director of the Television News Agency of the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company; Pyotr Ramanchuk, deputy director of the Belarusian First National Radio Channel; Ryhor Sakalowski, first deputy chairman of the pro-government Belarusian Union of Journalists; and Mikalay Shloma, editor in chief of the government newspaper Minskaya Prawda.
Belarus Demands Revision of Gas Deal With Gazprom - Deputy PM
"When the agreement was signed [on December 31, 2006] we relied on the Russian estimate that oil prices would decline. As there are articles in both Russian and Belarusian civil codes under which an agreement may be amended or severed given significant changes in circumstances we suggest either sitting down at the negotiating table and either severing the agreement which is unacceptable or supplementing it to reach a civilized solution [on the gas price for Belarus]," Semashko said.
Belarus and Russia are at the stage of talks, he said.
At Gazprom (RTS: GAZP) Interfax was told that the gas price for Belarus is calculated according to a formula, which is most comfortable in Gazprom gas deliveries to CIS and European countries.
"While at the beginning of 2008 the price of gas for Belarus was $119 for 1,000 cubic meters, now we have switched to $127.9 which will remain until the end of the year," he said.
Semashko said that if the gas agreement and its formula of pricing gas are applied, Belarus may face a steep rise in prices because fuel prices are soaring throughout the world.
He drew attention to the fact that the new Russian Cabinet intends to put off the transition to the principle of equal profitability of the gas price on all markets as of January 1, 2011 to 2014-2015. Russia believes that "if the strategy declared earlier is followed, Russia will have to double fuel prices as of January 1, 2011 which will be disastrous for it," Semashko said. "Russia will slow down the motion and we can come up with the argument - why can a price be significantly raised for our small country?" he said.
He said that last week Belarus and Russia signed an additional agreement raising the rate of gas transit across Belarus. Having no price Belarus nevertheless fulfilled all the transit obligations, he said. "Gazprom paid Belarus $105 million in the first half for the transit. When Gazprom made the transit payment, we used the money to cover the difference between $119 for 1,000 cubic meters of gas for Belarus in the first quarter and $128 in the second," he said.
Belarus in plants sale talks with Rosneft, LUKOIL
"We are in talks on Naftan and Polimir with Rosneft and LUKOIL. The investor must have feedstock to supply the plants and markets to sell production. LUKOIL might become a wonderful partner," Vladimir Semashko told a briefing.
Belarus said it was planning to sell 50 percent in a combined company that would unite Naftan and Polimir plants with connected technology processes. The government is planning to carry out a pre-sale international audit of the companies.
Semashko said the main option considered is creating a 50-50 joint venture but gave no financial details of the deal.
He added the government was expecting the oil companies to present their business plans in autumn.
Naftan, one of Belarus's two refineries, processed around 200,000 barrels per day last year.
BELARUS OPENS ZELTSER’S TRIAL BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.
Zeltser and Funk were detained upon their arrival in Minsk on March 12. At first, they were charged with using fake documents. On April 25, U.S. Consul Caroline Savage visited him in jail. Zeltser told her that he had been beaten on the second and third days of his detention. She said that Zeltser was very weak and had difficulty walking and talking. In Washington, the Belarusian charge d'affaires was summoned to the Department of State, which called for Zeltser's release "on humanitarian grounds."
In a letter to the Belarus prosecutor general, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union expressed "extreme concern" with reports to the effect that Zeltser has been placed in involuntary confinement in a psychiatric institution and was physically abused by police. Signed by UCSJ's president Larry Lerner and executive director Micah H. Naftalin, the letter requested Zeltser's release from detention and an investigation of allegations of abuse.
Reuters pointed out that Zeltser, a Russian-born, New York-based specialist in Russian law and organized crime, was arrested “at the height of a diplomatic row between Belarus and the United States.” Condemned by Western countries for repressing human rights, Belarus told the U.S. ambassador to leave, following U.S. sanctions against Belarusian oil company Belneftekhim.
According to Reuters, the drug charge was added after the security service, still called KGB, said that more than 100 tablets identified as “narcotics” were discovered on Zeltser. His lawyer said the drugs were to treat a back ailment. An earlier report from Minsk suggested that the government treated the case as affecting national security, therefore secret.
Reuters identified Zeltser as a director of the American Russian Law Institute which promotes legal reform in Russia and noted that his reason to travel to Belarus was to represent the interests of Josef Kay, a relative of the late Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili.
UN set to boost funding for Belarus projects
The UN provided $20 million to Belarus in technical aid in 2007, Mr. Broek said.
According to him, the assistance program for the period between 2011 and 2015 will be discussed later this year.
Belarus is to receive up to $85 million in grants under the 2006-10 program, Mr. Broek said.
He expressed hope that the World Bank would continue investing in Belarus and providing it with loans.
Belarus is a rather developed country and it is increasingly difficult to convince donors that it still needs funding while there are poorer nations, Mr. Broek said.
The projects that the UN plans to carry out in Belarus will be aimed at, among other things, fighting HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, increasing energy efficiency, developing renewable energy sources, improving migration control, fighting human trafficking, and dealing with the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.
The UN Office will continue helping Belarus in cooperation with UN agencies that do not have a presence in Belarus, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Mr. Broek said. Belarus is welcome to make its own contribution to the development of other nations, he said
Belarus to continue paying $128 for 1000 cubic meters of gas until year-end
Beltranshaz, Belarus’ gas supply company, and Russia’s Gazprom gas giant signed an appropriate deal earlier this week, he said.
Gazprom raised the gas price for Belarus from $119 per 1000 cubic meters in the first quarter of the year to $128 in the second quarter, but, according to Russian sources, Belarus continued to pay at $119 for some time.
According to Mr. Syamashka, Belarus has recently repaid a $24-million debt accumulated in the second quarter to Gazprom after the latter paid $105 million in gas transit fees to the country.
The vice premier warned that Belarus may be in for a sharp rise in the gas price next year.
Under a five-year contract, signed with the Russian natural gas monopolist on December 31, 2006, Beltranshaz pledged to pay 67 percent of the European market level in 2008, excluding delivery costs. The price is to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011. It is to be 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011.
Elections are coming near, the pressure of civil society increases
The authorities pressurize democrats all over the country, using different pretexts for it. In particular, in Pukhavichy they fined the local activist Siarhei Abrazouski almost 2 million rubles for organization of an unauthorized meeting on 27 June against the construction of a pesticide plant near the settlement of Druzhny.
The members of the BPF Party Siarhei Antusevich and Vadzim Saranchukou received telephone calls from KGB officers. The activists were offered to come to the local KGB department. Formally, they are called there for giving explanations concerning 4 July blast in Minsk. The activists believe that they are persecuted for participation in the electoral campaign: both of them have already registered their initiative groups. A similar call was received by Siarhei Malchyk, head of Hrodna oblast BPF branch.
Taisiya Kabanchuk, who intends to run on the list of the European Belarus’ list, is threatened with firing from the position of storekeeper at the local poultry factory.
Cases of political persecution
One day in Hrodna the human rights activist Viktar Sazonau was twice detained and searched at the railway station. He did not have anything prohibited with him. He explains the detentions with persecution for his human rights activities and active participation in the electoral campaign. Besides, Mr. Sazonau was summonsed to the local KGB department for interrogation in connection with the blast which had taken place in Minsk in the morning of 4 July. For the same reason KGB summonsed the youth activist, member of the Young Front and the United Civil Party Aleh Korban, and activist of Mahiliou Young Front branch Rastsislau Pankratau.
The pressurization on the members of the initiative group of the member of the resident of Hlubokaye, member of the BPF Party Yaraslau Bernikovich, continues. Two members of his initiative group were summonsed to the police for fingerprinting and giving the samples of their saliva. In Ushachy the police started detaining collectors of signatures in support of Bernikovich’s candidacy.
Financial police holds 1st place
The financial organs are the most active ones in persecuting the opposition. Soon after human rights activists announced their intention to organize monitoring of the election, they and members of their families started to be summonsed to tax inspections.
The committee of financial investigations of Mahiliou oblast demands that the oppositionists who intend to run at the parliamentary election urgently present income declarations. It concerns about ten democratic activists including the head of the donors’ NGO Drop of Life Ihar Kavalenka and the head of Mahiliou oblast organization of the United Civil Party Uladzimir Shantsau.
The head of the United Civil Party Anatol Liabedzka faces the third wave of financial check-ups already. At first he was disturbed by the tax inspection and the Department of financial investigations of the State Control Committee. Now it’s the tax inspection of Tsentralny district of Minsk again.
The most interesting fact is that this time the tax inspectors pay interest to the financial activities of the Euro-Atlantic association, which Liabedzka used to head and which was liquidated by the Ministry of Justice about ten years ago. According to the UCP leader, participants of the electoral process waste much time on collection of the appropriate documents and visits to the financial organs, the time which could be spent on direct work with the electorate. ‘Secondly, it is a means of psychological influence. It does not affect me, but it makes nervous some of those running for the first time and the members of their families,’ Liabedzka said.
Violations are procuracy’s concern
As said by its secretary Mikalai Lazavik, the Central Electoral Committee treats persecution of participants of the electoral campaign negatively. ‘However, reading the websites of some politicians I see that often they make a mountain out of a molehill. On the other hand, if politically neutral nominees state about such fact we get indignant and, in the case were receive such complaints, we pass them to procuracy for taking the adequate legal measures.’
Russian generals want to deploy missiles and bombers in Belarus
From: Charter '97
According to general-major Viktar Esin, first vice president of the Academy of Security, Defense Law Order and Problems, deployment of Iskander-M missiles, able to hit anti-missile elements in the Czech Republic may be discussed. He thinks another possible response is using of air base Machulishchy (near Minsk) for strategic bomber aircrafts. Finally, the general found it necessary to remind that Topol mobile missiles were deployed in Belarus in the Soviet Times.
Though Russia and Belarus signed numerous military contracts, this readiness to use territory of a foreign country to solve one’s own security problems arouse, to put it mildly, bewilderment. For example, the Czech Republic and Poland as well as the United States are NATO members. However, long negotiations were conducted with them on a similar purpose, moreover negotiations with Warsaw are far from the end. Besides, positions of the sides and concrete conditions of contracts are open to the public there, “BDG” newspaper notes.
It is beyond the question that an objective of such statements is to make the Europeans be nervous about their participating in anti-missile systems. However, this clamor pursues another, absolutely propagandist, aim - to demonstrate the population of the country that “Russia is getting up from knees”.
Russia's super-rich anger the poor
Luxury homes of the wealthy are springing up near tiny villages
From: Houston Chron
"It will be paradise," Veliev said, sitting behind the wheel of a sport utility vehicle as he showed a reporter around the construction site. Veliev, 24, is a personal assistant to Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijan-born billionaire behind the project, which sits about 15 miles northwest of Moscow.
Turning the wheel, Veliev drove to the future setting of an 18-hole golf course and club, where joining may cost $200,000, and monthly dues an additional $1,000 — chump change for the intended demographic of men who are chauffeured around Moscow in Bentleys.
And then, on the front nine, Veliev paused. There was the unmistakable, heavy stench of cow dung, right in the middle of a rich man's paradise. The smell of excrement was from a dairy farm in a village on the other side of an enormous green fence built by Agalarov. Its owners so far aren't selling.
The challenge of building an enclave for Russia's wealthy elite near small, poor villages lays bare a central socioeconomic tension in Russia today: The large rush of cash brought on by high oil and gas prices has created an ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of the country.
Moscow has more billionaires — 74 — than any other city in the world, according to Forbes magazine, and Russia is second, with 87 billionaires in all, only to the United States. Agalarov is one of them; he puts his net worth at more than triple Forbes' estimate of $1.2 billion.
Meanwhile, the average salary in Russia is about $720 a month, and inflation is in double digits, according to official statistics.
Strong-arm tactics alleged
New developments like Agalarov Estate are springing up on the highways leading out of Moscow, right alongside tiny settlements where families have barely enough money to pay the bills.
"We have a large group of rich people who are moving to this poor environment," said Polina Kuznetsova, a senior analyst and project manager at Moscow's Institute for Urban Economics. "The people around them are still very poor; they are very angry."
The dairy farm is just one of the problems facing Agalarov Estate.
A band of residents in the nearby village of Voronino — a feisty collection of pensioners, their children and middle class Muscovites who spend the weekends there — has waged a campaign of letters and complaints to Russian officials alleging that Agalarov tried to force them to sell their property.
The villagers told the regional prosecutor's office that after a round of menacing phone calls to those who wouldn't sell, a local dog was shot, another had its throat slit, and a bathhouse was burned down.
Villagers called greedy
Prior to 1992, Voronino was part of a Soviet kolkhoz, or collective farm. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, the farm and its holdings were changed to a joint stock company, which began selling much of its land to investors like Agalarov.
Interviewed at the building site, Agalarov, one of Russia's biggest property developers, said that Voronino has been the only thorn in his side out of the four surrounding villages. The reason, he said, is not proud residents beset by an unscrupulous land developer — he denies all of their accusations — but greedy opportunists demanding exorbitant fees for their land.
"There is a group of people who are sore at us; we didn't buy their houses for $3 million or $5 million." Agalarov said. "They have this feeling that if they keep complaining all the time, then I'll have to buy them out to get rid of this headache."
It's an effective tactic, he said. After villagers write to local officials, inspectors visit the site looking for problems big and small, halting construction, Agalarov said.
Agalarov and his company, Crocus International, have pushed ahead, investing more than half a billion dollars, with plans to spend another $100 million by next summer, when the project is slated for completion.
Ukraine parliament gives help after floods kill 30
Emergencies Minister Volodymyr Shandra announced the death toll in a specially convened parliamentary debate. Figures earlier this week said 22 had died, including six children and two people struck by lightning.
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko told the chamber 18,000 residents had fled their homes.
The assembly altered the 2008 budget to approve the assistance to western regions.
A senior minister described the flooding as the worst in a century, with the Prut and Dnestr Rivers rising to dangerous levels.
After a six-hour debate, deputies combined elements of three proposals -- including documents submitted by Tymoshenko and by President Viktor Yushchenko to add 5.8 billion hryvnias to the budget, about 2.5 percent of the budget approved in February.
Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, allies during the 2004 "Orange Revolution" that brought pro-Western liberals to power, have been at odds over a long list of issues since Tymoshenko was appointed premier for a second time last year.
Most of the funds came from higher than expected revenues from value added tax receipts and import duties.
More than $200 million was channelled to an Agrarian Fund to buy grain direct from farmers to avoid falls in local prices. The floods had little effect on what is likely to be a bumper grain crop of 43 million tonnes against 29 million last year.
Deputies also endorsed a decree issued by President Viktor Yushchenko declaring six regions "emergency ecological zones".
Parliament made no examination of other amendments to the 2008 budget to take account of higher than expected inflation, currently running at just below 30 percent year-on-year. These will be considered in September.
In neighbouring Romania, four people died in floods in the northeastern county of Maramures. The Bucharest government put up 50 million lei ($22 million) this week to rebuild damaged infrastructure and provide aid to affected villagers.
USA hammer Olympic basketball warning against Lithuania
The 12-time champions, humbled at Athens 2004, matched defensive ferocity with offensive class as they shot to a big early lead, stifled a brief comeback, and then ran away with it in front of a packed Cotai Arena.
Cleveland Cavaliers playmaker James again dominated with 15 points and six assists as the NBA superstars made it three out of three after convincing warm-up wins against Canada and Turkey.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski refused to look too far ahead despite an all-round display which underlines USA's status as favourites for a 13th gold medal in Beijing.
"We're just thinking about playing Russia right now and about keeping getting better," the coach said, referring to USA's next friendly in Shanghai.
"I think if you look ahead you can get knocked off by anybody. I think we played really well tonight because we had so much respect for Lithuania, who I think will also be a medal-round team or a medal winner."
MVP Dwyane Wade, the top-scorer with 19, said he was happy to be back to his best after two seasons disrupted by injury.
"I've worked my tail off to get healthy," he said. "I'm healthy as I've been in two years. I'm excited not only about this opportunity but also about the rest of my career.
"That weight room's become my best friend."
USA got off to a fearsome start, swarming the Lithuania offence and racing to a 19-0 lead as James picked up where he left off against Turkey with a pair of crowd-pleasing dunks.
NBA MVP Kobe Bryant showed delicate artistry with a two-point lay-up and jumper, and Chris Paul added a fade-away for another two with the USA cruising 31-15 by the end of the first period.
James is the NBA scoring champion, but his defensive qualities were instrumental and he fought under his own net before firing the length of the court for Paul, who set up Bryant for a flying jam and 56-39 at half-time.
Triple European champions Lithuania started the third period with a series of three-pointers, but James hit back with one of his own and added two net-swinging dunks to smother the brief renaissance.
Lithuania's run of three straight Olympic bronze medals was ended by USA in the Athens 2004 third-place play-off. They had earlier humbled the "Dream Team" defending champions in the opening round.
Lithuania had won six out of seven warm-ups this month, falling only to world champions Spain. They are drawn against Olympic title-holders Argentina, Russia, Australia, Iran and Croatia in Group A.
Sports Minister calls football association “con artists”
From: Polski Radio
Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki, who commented on the postponement of PZPN’s general meeting until October on Polish Radio Three Thursday morning, said there was a group of con artists operating within PZPN who deceived Polish football fans.
Minister Drzewiecki said he was ashamed of the management of PZPN and pointed out that the amendment to the Football Association’s Statute changing the date of the general meeting was made on July 28, just before the decision was formally made public.
Miroslaw Drzewiecki called “scandalous” the situation when the first league’s matches are postponed for two weeks and it is not yet clear which teams will be allowed to participate.
He added that if the current PZPN Chairman Michal Listkiewicz - who had promised to step down following accusations of turning a blind eye to the rampant corruption in Polish football and the procedure of setting up match results for bribes - insisted on remaining in his position for another term he would refuse to cooperate with him.
The minister warned that the Polish Olympic Committee had the power to take over the association by appointing a curator at PZPN.
Minister Drzewiecki stressed that it was the government’s strong intention to completely rid Polish football of corruption.
In July this year, the Sports Minister suggested to the PZPN Chairman Michal Listkiewicz he resign due to the corruption scandals that shook the Polish football scene last year. Listkiewicz then promised he would step down by September 14. Recently, however, PZPN Chairman announced that he was considering staying in the job, because UEFA wanted so.
German nudists accuse Polish tourists of voyeurism
From: The News
Germans and Poles are going to war over a nudist beach on the Polish-German border on the Baltic Sea beach, reports British The Sun tabloid.
Germans nudists have been fuming over the fact that since a fence on the two nations' border was removed in 2007, following Poland’s accession to the Schengen borderless zone, Polish bathers stroll into German territory near the Polish town of Swinoujscie, north-western Poland, encroaching on the privacy of naked German sunbathers.
"You feel like an ape in the zoo. The Poles come with their binoculars, stare and swear at us,” one German naturist told The Sun.
"It’s a nudist beach. It’s terrible that Poles come over, dressed, and stare,” another nude beachgoer from Germany has complained to the British tabloid.
But the Poles have hit back and tell their neighbours “to cover up”.
“It’s horrible, we would never bathe naked, we are Catholic,” said a Polish beachgoer from Swinoujscie.
Corrupt journalist attempts suicide in church
From: The News
At around 10 am, the journalist, surrounded by a pool of blood, was found in the church. An ambulance was called immediately and the man was transported to one of Warsaw's hospitals. His condition is serious, but his life is not in danger.
Yesterday, the district court in Warsaw decided to allow the arrest of Smulinski in connection with corruption charges. The journalist then sent a letter, dated 28 July 2008, to newspapers in which he claimed his innocence.
It is said that this is not the first time he tried to commit suicide.
Wojciech Sumlinski is an investigative journalist working for Polish dailies and weeklies.
Cocah: Ekaterina Karsten ready for Olympic showdown
"I think she is in good shape because in the season she won every race," said Ladermann.
Ever since the year of 2005, Karsten has been in a wining streak, winning all world championships and World Cups.
Karsten is a two-time Olympic champion, having won gold medals in women's single sculls in 1996 Atlanta Olympics and in 2000 Sydney Olympics.
In 2004 Athens Olympics, she lost to Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski of Germany, finishing with a silver medal. She has also won the World championships in the event in 1997, 1999,2005, 2006, and 2007.
"Normally we train in Germany. Before we came here we went to Minsk of Belarus for three days and then we started to come to Beijing." said Ladermann :"We came here on July 27th when the venue was open."
Karsten, whose maiden name is Khodotovitch, is married and lives with her German husband and daughter in Potsdam of Germany.
"Maybe four or five times we go to Belarussia one year. In the preparation for the Olympics we stayed there for two weeks and trained in Belarussia." Ladermann added.
Ladermann tipped Karsten's main rival as Mirka Knapkova of Czech Republic, who came second in both 2005 and 2006 world championships.
"And maybe girls from China, Romania and New Zeland are also strong."
China's Zhang Xiuyun, a 1996 Olympic silver medallist in women's double sculls, won a third place in single sculls in the World Cup in Lucerne of Switzerland in 2008.
Ladermann noted that pre-Olympic training is the same as usual.
"We have normal training and train everything including mentality." said he:"(Olympics) it's only a regatta, a special regatta. Our preparation is for every competition as normal."
Beijing Olympics will be 36-year-old Karsten's fifth edition.
Tall Ferns go down to Belarus
In their first competitive outing since early June, the Tall Ferns made a bright start to lead through the opening quarter but fell behind during the second period and could not wrestle back the initiative.
"We got back to within six points in the last quarter," coach Mike McHugh said.
"But we had to foul and just couldn't get over the line."
McHugh was satisfied to have his team back on the court and battling against bigger opponents, mindful that the Tall Ferns might have to beat a European team, either Spain or the Czech Republic, to progress to the Olympic quarterfinals.
Belarus finished fourth at last year's European championship and earned a spot in Beijing through the repechage tournament in June.
"It was more a size thing; they were just too big for us," he said.
"Every time they needed a basket, they just went inside, whereas we would have to try and force a turnover or beat them in transition."
The match was all about getting game time for veteran Charmian Purcell, who missed much of last year due to a knee injury and was omitted from the national team's earlier tours this year.
"Charmian was probably our best player, grabbing five or six offensive rebounds," McHugh said.
Point guard Angela Marino led the New Zealand scoring effort with 15 points.
The Tall Ferns have another practice game scheduled against Brazil next week.
They hope to arrange a third, possibly against Belarus, before beginning their Olympic pool play against African champions Mali on August 9.
Belarus’ flagship hockey club name USA’s Jim Hughes as new coach
The 41-year-old American succeeds Paul Gardner, who was sacked less than two months after taking over at the team. Dinamo Minsk did not play a single game under the Canadian.
Mr. Hughes was an assistant coach at the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies in the last season.
In 2005-06, he led the AHL's Manchester Monarchs to a record of 43-30-3-4, his first season as the team's head coach. He served as the Monarchs' assistant coach for two years prior to 2005-06.
Mr. Hughes was employed for two seasons (2001-03) with then NHL’s Boston Bruins, where he oversaw the team's defense and penalty-killing units.
According to Mr. Vashkevich, the club offered the job to Mr. Hughes on the recommendation of Belarus head coach Glen Hanlon and his predecessor, Curt Fraser.
Mr. Hughes was said to be satisfied with the financial terms of the deal. He is expected to join the team during a training camp in Helsinki on August 7.
Dinamo Minsk will play in the Continental Hockey League (CHL), a nascent tournament touted by Russia as a rival to the NHL, in the 2008/09 season and is expected to have an annual budget of at least $17 million.
Daily Life in Belarus
Belarus is a country of 10 million citizens in the heart of Europe. Its president, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power since 1994, and U.S. Presidential candidate John McCain recently described him as a "brutal dictator" and supports continued U.S. sanctions, imposed in reaction to rigged elections in 2006. This September, over 700 international observers will be on hand to monitor new parliamentary elections, and Lukashenko may be trying to warm up to the West. Here is a look at some recent scenes in and around Belarus.
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