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President Pays a Visit to the New "Belarus" Megaplex Cinema
From: BelTA and the Office of the President
|Alexander Lukashenko on a tour of the new cinema|
The multiplex was built between July 2006 and August 2008. Built in stead of former movie theatre Belarus, the new multiplex has five cinema halls able to welcome 1,028 viewers.
Alexander Lukashenko got familiar with the equipment installed in the movie theatre and examined the projection booth and the audience hall. He inquired about movie storage conditions and the film exhibition process. He was also demonstrated social security reels, a cartoon and parts of feature films made by cinema studio Belarusfilm.
While at the movie theatre the President talked to culture and movie art officials, representatives of movie studios, heads of Belarusian TV channels, movie directors and actors, touching upon a wide range of problems the Belarusian movie-making industry faces.
The head of state was informed about the state of things in movie making and distribution and tasks of the Culture Ministry. The Belarusian cinema and video industry includes two movie-making enterprises, namely national movie studio Belarusfilm and Belarusian Videocentre as well as six oblast movie distribution enterprises and the Minsk city movie distribution enterprise. In 2008 Belarusfilm made 10 documentaries, 4 social reels, one cartoon and 3 feature films, with the production of another 8 films in progress. This year Belarusian Videocentre made 14 documentaries and one popular-science film, 15 chronicles and 6 social reels. Within half a year Belarusian movie theatres welcomed over 7 million viewers.
The President was told in 2009 the reconstruction of all movie theatres in Belarus will be completed. Around half of the movie theatres will be equipped with Dolby Stereo systems in 2009-2010. Video projectors and vehicles were acquired for showing movies in hard to reach communities in rural areas. Every year the number of movies purchased for movie theatres increases, including the number of movies for youth and children. Minsk movie theatres are introducing the state-of-the-art digital movie distribution methods.
Yet the share of Belarus-made movies on the big screen is very low. Belarusian movie theatres demonstrate US-made movies (36%), Russian movies (30%), European pictures (24%) and movies made by Belarusfilm (only 5%).
Alexander Lukashenko was displeased with the Belarusian cinematography development. “Fifteen years ago I outlined movie industry development goals. Fifteen years it’s been and where are the results? The state still pours a lot into the industry without an adequate response”.
In view of the facts the President issued an instruction to make the national movie and video industry self-supporting starting the next year. “We will not give money in advance, on one's honour,” said the head of state. “I’ve been supporting you, with no effect so far. If you work well, making good products, there will be money. Make good movies and we will buy them from you. Nothing will happen without investments. Take loans and make movies. If you make a good movie, we will compensate for it.”
New approaches to movie-making are required. Movie directors should be interested in promoting their products on the market. “If necessary, go to Hollywood and use their approaches. They work round the clock! In Russia the initial situation was worse than ours. Did the president help them? They seek money and make movies,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.
The President also mentioned personnel shortage the movie industry experiences. The average age of movie directors approaches 60. The head of state believes that young and promising people should be encouraged to participate in movie production. “Gather those, who truly want to work. And I will always support young talents,” he said. “You can rest assured good directors and actors will be rich and famous,” added Alexander Lukashenko.
According to Belarusfilm Director General Vladimir Zametalin, at present one generation is replaced by another and hopes are attached to movie directors, who graduate from Turov’s and Ptashuk’s studios. Nowadays the national movie studio has to concentrate on reconstructing Belarusfilm, enhanced remodelling, provision of highly qualified personnel, creation of a full movie-making cycle. At present trips to Moscow are required to complete the full movie-making cycle.
After hearing out the report of the Belarusfilm Director General, the President issued an instruction to complete the reconstruction of film studio Belarusfilm by May 1, 2010. He underscored, the territory adjacent to the film studio should be put in order by the same deadline.
The production of animation movies, which are made in Belarus in insufficient numbers, was also touched upon. The problem also derives from the lack of qualified personnel. Alexander Lukashenko underscored more attention should be paid to animation development.
The President backed opinions in support of popularising Belarusian movies. He pointed out that only quality products that viewers like are worth discussing.
Television as a movie industry customer means a lot for developing the movie industry. Yet it was justly noted that Belarusian TV channels should accept only competitive Belarus-made movies.
As far as personnel training is concerned, the head of state was ready to back up proposals for developing and expanding the Arts Academy. The enhancement of its material and technical base should be a common cause for all interested parties.
Once again the President reminded that money should be spent wisely. “Don’t plan big projects, count money. If I was convinced that you’d make a movie to rock the world, I’d give you huge funding,” said the head of state. “However, if people take money for granted, they don’t work well. Severe competition and desire to gain something is required,” added Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko wants Belarusian movie industry self-supporting starting next year
The Belarusian movie industry should become self-supporting starting next year, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he visited the multiplex Belarus in Minsk on September 12.
“Nothing will happen without investments. Take loans and make movies. If you make a good movie, we will compensate for it. No money in advance,” said the head of state.
“Go to Hollywood and use their approaches. They work round the clock! In Russia the initial situation was worse than ours. Did the president help them? They seek money and make movies,” he stressed.
The President was also displeased with the Belarusian cinematography development. “Fifteen years ago I outlined movie industry development goals. Fifteen years it’s been and where are the results?”
Alexander Lukashenko mentioned personnel shortage the movie industry experiences. The average age of movie directors approaches 60. The head of state believes that young and promising people should be encouraged to participate in movie production. “Gather those, who truly want to work. And I will always support young talents,” he said.
“We will not give money in advance, on one's honour,” said the President. “I’ve been supporting you, with no effect so far. If you work well, making good products, there will be money. Make good movies and we will buy them from you”.
“You can rest assured good directors and actors will be rich and famous,” added Alexander Lukashenko.
Alexander Lukashenko congratulates BelAZ’s staff on 60th anniversary of company
“The Belarusian Autoworks is the pride of the national machine industry. The company developed more than 500 modifications of various vehicles for road-construction and mining works. BelAZ trucks acquired a reputation for itself as reliable equipment for the severe conditions of usage. The company captured more than 30% of the world market of dump trucks,” President’s message says.
BelAZ to offer dump trucks able to carry over 500 tonnes
BelAZ will expand the line-up of dump trucks with the payload capacity in excess of 500 tonnes. The company is capable of doing it, Belarusian Industry Minister Anatoly Rusetsky said in Zhodino on September 12 at a solemn meeting timed to the celebration of the company’s 60th anniversary.
At present dump trucks with the payload capacity of 320 tonnes are top of the line products BelAZ offers.
The Minister remarked, Belarusian Autoworks is the face of the domestic mechanical engineering industry, a unique company designing and producing heavy dump trucks. For its further development other enterprises need to be developed as well. BelAZ’ Mogilev-based branch MoAZ is starting the production of steel castings. In the future Belarusian mechanical engineering companies will manufacture welded load-bearing structures. Good radial tyres as well as alternating current drives are required to extend the service life of the vehicles.
Belarus should go beyond machining and manufacturing machines, believes Anatoly Rusetsky. “We should also master the production of complicated vehicle control systems,” he added. At present BelAZ trucks represent complicated electromechanical systems, which are expected to be even more complicated in the future. It will happen when the payload capacity is increased from 320 tonnes to more than 500 tonnes.
The Industry Minister also believes, BelAZ should build up the system of its representative offices across the globe.
Belavia opens its office in Milan
In a related story, Belarusian National Airline Belavia has opened its office in Milan, BelTA learnt in the airline.
“It is the second Belavia representation office in Italy. The first one opened in Rome ten years ago,” specialists noted. The new office will allow the company to satisfy the demand for the air transportation between the two countries which has been growing.
Belavia is the only airline which makes direct flights between Belarus and Italy. The flights from Minsk to Milan and back are made on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The flights from Minsk to Rome and back are made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Belarusian National Airline Belavia was set up on March 5, 1996 for regular air service between Belarus and the largest cities of Europe and Asia. Since 1997 Belavia has been a full-fledged member of the International Air Transport Association. Aircrafts of the company make regular and charter flights to Europe, Middle East and Asia. Famous companies worldwide – Aeroflot, Aerosvit, Air Baltic, Austrian Airlines, Azal and others are among partners of Belavia.
Belarus will further improve its business climate, Sergei Sidorsky says
The Premier noted that according to Doing Business 2009, the sixth annual report published by the World Bank and IFC, the Republic of Belarus is one the world’s leaders in legal reforms meant to facilitate business operation. Belarus has also made it to the top four regulatory reformers.
“At present we are facing new challenges – to enter the list of 30 top countries. This is why efforts to create a favourable business climate will continue,” underlined Sergei Sidorsky.
He added that these ratings fail to take into account the macroeconomic policy, infrastructure quality, currency stability and crime rate. “A lot has been done to improve these areas, therefore Belarus could rank even higher taking into consideration these criteria,” the Premier said.
Belarus Foreign Ministry: no request for invitation to attend EU events
“Belarus has not made any requests concerning getting invited to EU events. To invite or not invite is purely an internal procedure of the European Union,” Andrei Popov made clear.
He also remarked, “Invitation or no invitation of representatives of Belarus to a certain European Union event is not of primary importance as it is. The clearly expressed desire of both the sides to make specific steps towards each other is much more important.”
Belarus has made such a step forward and it is well-known. “But it appears that our European counterparts have problems with an adequate response,” added Andrei Popov.
“Nevertheless, we are still ready for dialogue with the European Union and believe that fuss of any of the parties will definitely not benefit the dialogue,” underlined the Foreign Ministry spokesman.
In January-August Belarus’ broad money supply up 20.6%
As of September 1 2008, the cash in circulation totalled Br4258.45 billion (up 28.1%). The cash in circulation accounted for 14.4% of the broad money supply.
As of September 1 2008, corporate and individual transferable deposits amounted to Br5947.9 billion, up 9.8% over the eight months this year. Other deposits in the national currency grew 28.1% to total Br8957,4 billion.
Investments in bank bonds were up 26.1% in January-August to Br1301,9 billion.
By September 1, 2008 the volume of foreign currency deposits reached Br8966,3 billion, up 16.9% from early 2008.
The volume of foreign currency bank bonds expanded by 74% over the eight months to Br114.1 billion.
Plant producing LED equipment to be built in Belarus
A plant manufacturing light-emitting diode equipment will be constructed in Belarus, Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Sergei Rakhmanov told a press conference in Minsk on September 11.
The Belarusian side is negotiating the possibility to implement this project together with potential investors. “Largest industrial companies are to participate in the construction of the plant. The new plant may either carry out the complete production cycle or the assembly production. The final decision has not been made yet,” Sergei Rakhmanov noted.
According to him, all the conditions have been created in Belarus for the attraction of foreign investment in the development of LED equipment. The country is situated in the centre of Europe and possesses a considerable export potential. Apart from that, the Belarusian scientists have created a series of cutting-edge technologies which can compete successfully with their foreign analogues on the international market.
The development and application of LED equipment is one of the most promising scientific trends in many countries around the globe. Light-emitting diodes have multiple advantages. They are 10 times more economical than incandescent lamps and 2-3 times more cost-effective than electroluminescent lamps. Apart from that, the use of LED equipment is ecologically safe because it does not bring harm to environment.
Belarus’ election campaign gathers pace
“Candidates for deputies have launched all forms of the election campaign including meetings with voters, leaflets, TV and radio appearances,” Nikolai Lozovik said.
The election campaign will last till September 27 and will be conducted simultaneously with the early elections which start on September 23. The contenders will complete TV and radio appearances before the early elections, but will continue distributing printed matter and meeting with the electorate, the CEC Secretary said.
Over 280 contenders have been registered for the parliamentary elections in Belarus. Candidates can publish election programmes in one of the following newspapers: Zvyazda, Narodnaya Gazeta, Respublika, Belarusskaya Niva and also in regional newspapers. Speeches of the candidates are broadcast by Lad TV channel, STV and Stolitsa radio station.
Budget funds will be allocated for the production of election leaflets. Candidates for deputies will be provided with free premises for meetings with the electorate. The district election commissions are due to inform the public on the date and the venue of such meetings.
International organisations show great interest in Belarus’ elections, CIS observers say
The interest on the part of international organisations and international public to the parliamentary elections in Belarus is very great. A great number of observers would like to visit Belarus. There will be a thousand of them, which attests to the openness of the Belarusian society, chief of the CIS election observation mission Nauryz Aidarov told a news briefing in Minsk on September 9.
A reminder, CIS and OSCE/ODIHR long-term observers are now monitoring the election campaign in all regions of Belarus. Nauryz Aidarov informed that the CIS will deploy more than 300 observers. Short-term observers will arrive in Belarus two or three day ahead of the voting day. They will visit polling stations and meet with the chiefs of the district election commissions.
Nauryz Aidarov said that “political impartiality in monitoring is guaranteed as the CIS observers are highly professional and make their assessments on the results of the monitoring.”
Official: Election will change Western image of Belarus
From: Kyiv Post
The 27-nation European Union, which along with the United States still maintains sanctions against Belarus, is offering closer ties if the election proves to be clean, according to a draft statement obtained by Reuters.
Veteran President Alexander Lukashenko has long been accused by Western countries of cracking down on opponents, muzzling the media, rigging his own re-election and keeping the liberal and nationalist opposition out of parliament.
In the past year, he has sought improved ties with the West as courts freed all detainees deemed to be political prisoners. He says he hopes opposition politicians will win seats in the Sept. 28 contest to prove his country respects democracy.
"This election is intended to smash stereotypes," Lidia Yermoshina, head of the Central Election Commission, told a news conference.
"Let the election prove to the international community that we are for cooperation and openness...Let the campaign be as lively as possible." She said "flexibility" had been used in the election process.
A statement to be issued by EU foreign ministers next Monday welcomes the release of detainees as "a significant step" towards respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law.
The 27 ministers, also keen to reward Minsk for refusing to back Russia in recognising two breakaway regions of Georgia, will call for a pluralist election with fair opposition access to the media and election supervisory boards.
RE-ENGAGEMENT WITH BELARUS
The statement said ministers were ready to review "restrictive measures on Belarussian officials and take concrete, positive measures that could lead to a gradual reengagement with Belarus".
It raised the possibility of a meeting of foreign ministers, increased trade and cultural exchanges and a boost in aid. Washington says it has also eased some economic sanctions.
The opposition, split by internal rows and shut out of parliament in a 2004 poll, has won approval to run about 70 candidates in 110 districts, far more than in past elections.
Opposition figures say they are still being denied access to commissions that oversee the count. Some have suggested they could pull out of the race.
A Sept. 21 meeting of the "council" grouping parties making up the opposition is to take a final decision on participating and many analysts predict a split.
With two weeks to go, there are few signs of campaigning in Minsk's well-maintained streets -- no posters grace walls or billboards and no leaflets are being handed out to voters.
The only evidence of an election race are the publication of party platforms in newspapers and five-minute radio spots by candidates on state radio and television.
Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been invited to oversee the vote. They have refrained from criticising authorities, but noted the lack of political activity in the run-up to the vote.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, remains barred from the EU and United States over allegations he rigged his re-election.
Warily, EU warms to Belarus
In August, the government in Minsk released three political prisoners, and though it is widely seen as part of Moscow's sphere of influence, Belarus has not followed the Russian decision to recognize the Georgian breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.
European foreign ministers, who meet on Monday, are discussing an end to their ban on top-level contacts with Belarus if minimum democratic standards are observed during parliamentary elections there this month.
A meeting among EU officials and the Belarusian foreign minister, Sergei Martinov, could take place as soon as October.
Since the Russian military intervention in Georgia last month, European governments have begun to look for ways to improve cooperation with nations at the eastern flank of Europe. On Tuesday, the EU promised deeper ties with Ukraine, including talks on a free-trade zone and greater cooperation over energy and visas. The bloc also wants to improve contacts with Moldova.
But Belarus, ruled by an authoritarian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, is a different proposition.
While European officials acknowledge that human rights are restricted in Belarus, some believe that reformers may have gained influence.
They point to the release on Aug. 20 of two Belarusian political prisoners, Syarhey Parsyukevich and Andrey Kim. That followed the decision four days earlier to free another critic of the regime, Aleksandr Kazulin.
Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said there had been progress in Belarus, "in particular the freeing of political prisoners - that is an important step, and we welcome it."
"Mr. Solana had a phone conversation with Minister Martinov, and we are going to follow closely the conduct of the elections," Gallach added. "The way the elections are conducted will define the further steps that can be taken."
In addition to barring political contacts with Minsk, the EU has a travel ban in place on senior government figures.
The United States has also begun to reassess its relations with Belarus. It welcomed the release of prisoners and sent the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, David Merkel, to Minsk.
But skeptics argue that Lukashenko has relaxed his grip only because he knows that the internal opposition is so divided that it poses little threat to him.
Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform in London, said he found Lukashenko's thinking difficult to read.
"In the past, he has flirted with opening up to Europe," Valasek said. "But he usually does this to extract more concessions from Russia."
"But the Georgia war was a game-changing experience," Valasek added. "I don't rule out that he is a bit scared. He doesn't want to be completely under Russia's thumb, and I don't rule out that he may be worried that he is losing his freedom of maneuver."
At an informal meeting of EU ministers last weekend, the European commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, called for an early meeting with Martinov. However, EU governments made clear through ambassadors this week that they wanted to wait until after the parliamentary elections, on Sept. 28, before deciding on such a step.
The draft of a declaration due to be issued on Monday by foreign ministers describes the elections as an opportunity for Belarus to demonstrate its respect for democratic values.
In 2006, presidential elections in Belarus were described by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as severely flawed. It said that "arbitrary use of state power and widespread detentions showed a disregard for the basic rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression, and raise doubts regarding the authorities' willingness to tolerate political competition."
Belarus to accredit over 500 international observers for parliamentary elections
From: Trend AZ
The Belarusian Central Election Committee (CEC) has accepted applications for accreditation from 522
international observers, CEC chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina told a press conference in Minsk on Friday.
Two hundred five international observers have already started their work, she said, reported Interfax.
"They represent five international organizations: the CIS Executive Committee, the Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus and Russia, the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights," the CEC chief said.
These missions are represented by citizens from 27 countries, she said.
Moreover, the CEC is expecting the arrival of observers from election organizers in the CIS countries and the Baltic States. "Almost all CECs responded, including from the Baltic States. Only Moldovan and
Turkmenistan CEC officials are unlikely to arrive," Yermoshina said.
Election commissions of various levels have accredited 616 observers that include representatives from all opposition parties, she said.
The elections to the lower house of the Belarusian parliament will be held on September 28. To date, the election campaign has 282 candidates running for 110 parliamentary seats. The registered candidates include members of the opposition.
Bolshoi Ballet wows the State Theatre
From: SABC News
The group is currently on their first visit to the country as part of the celebrations of the heritage month of September under the theme Our Dance, Our Heritage. The visit is also part of a cultural exchange programme between South Africa and Belarus. Since 1973 the Bolshoi Ballet has visited Europe, Britain, Asia and now Africa.
The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre is headed by the Belarussian Deputy Minister of Culture, Vladimir Rytlako and is being hosted by Arts and Culture Minister, Pallo Jordan. Their vast repertoire includes famous ballets such as the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.
They also performed on Saturday night.
Media slammed for deep flaws in coverage ahead of legislative elections
From: Reporters Without Borders
A study carried out ahead of the 28 September poll by the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), a partner of the worldwide press freedom organisation, showed that the public media was paying little attention to the election itself and even less to the programmes of the different candidates.
The absence from the campaign of reform proposals in the media has deprived people of any real chance of informing themselves and of voting effectively.
“This election is an opportunity for the authorities to normalise relations that Belarus has with the international community. Unfortunately it seems the leaders are not ready to take advantage of it and that the regime’s grip on public life is continuing”, Reporters Without Borders said.
“The state-run media do not allow opposition candidates to get their message across and scandalously back the current government”, it said.
The BAJ presented the conclusions of the fifth part of its analysis of media coverage of the legislative elections on 5 September 2008 , covering the period 23 August to 5 September, when the campaign picked up with candidates beginning to be heard on radio and television.
Despite this development, the main public media did not give any more coverage to the poll or the campaign. They concentrated on technical aspects of polling, focusing for example on a description of the work of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Belarus state radio rejected a suggestion from the opposition United Civil Party that it hold a debate between candidates.
Of those involved in the election, President Alexander Lukashenko, the CEC, local authorities and foreign observers are those most often quoted. The newspapers Sovietskaya Belorussiya, Belarus Sevodnia and Respublika did not quote a single party apart from the one in power during the period studied.
The BAJ also stressed that the time slot given to official advertising and speeches by candidates on television - from 5.30pm to 6.30pm in Minsk and the big cities - would deprive the urban electorate from getting information about different political policies because of their hours of work.
Any special programmes on the election, such as on the regional radio and television in Homiel, 300 kilometres south of Minsk, or the LAD channel, looked at the work of the current deputies and the good results they had achieved.
The campaign has been marked by several negative incidents. The human rights organisation Charter97 (www.charter97), said that a speech made by an opposition candidate on regional television in Vitebsk, north-eastern Belarus on 5 September was broadcast without the sound, while the speeches of candidates aired before and afterwards were broadcast normally. The previous evening, another opposition candidate, Viktor Harbachou, had his speech put out 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, depriving his supporters of the chance to listen to it. Yet another opposition candidate, Konstantin Zhukowski of the Christian Democrat party was arrested on 9 September, while recording his address at Homiel radio and television after the director general called the police when he found that members of the candidate’s election team had recorded his speech with their own equipment for fear of censorship.
Belarus is a former Soviet republic, which has been ruled with an iron hand since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko. Since his re-election in 2006, with more than 80% of the vote, after a poll condemned as a “farce” by a large number of foreign observers, he and nearly 40 officials have been banned from entering EU territory. His assets have been frozen in the US and Europe. Under international pressure, the regime this year released several political prisoners, including former presidential candidate, Alexander Kozulin, who was arrested in March 2006 during a demonstration in protest at the results of the poll and sentenced to five and half years in prison.
Belarus and EU should develop roadmap for normalizing their relations, Milinkevich says
During an international conference that was held in Vilnius between September 5 and 8 and was titled, "The European Neighborhood Policy: Will the Parliamentary Elections in Belarus Be a Democratic Choice?" Mr. Milinkevich delivered a speech about possible rapprochement between Belarus and the EU.
"It is necessary for both sides to be consistent in their steps and commitments," Mr. Milinkevich told BelaPAN. The EU's 12 conditions for Belarus "should stay as they were," he said. "These conditions are appropriate, it's necessary to press Belarusian authorities to meet them. However, they're unable to meet them all at once." That is why it is necessary to begin with the three most important conditions, namely, the release of political prisoners, the restoration of media freedom, and the conduct of democratic elections, the politician suggested.
Political prisoners have already been freed, but there are still the sentences against opposition youths convicted over their participation in an unsanctioned demonstration that was staged in downtown Minsk in January, Mr. Milinkevich said. In particular, seven opposition youths were sentenced to “corrective labor at the place of residence,” which means that a certain amount will be deducted from their income during the two years, and three were sentenced to "restricted freedom terms."
"There's been no progress regarding media freedom," Mr. Milinkevich said. "Although cosmetic changes to the election process have been made, the [parliamentary] elections will be the same, as almost no representatives of pro-democratic candidates were included in precinct election commissions."
It is necessary for Belarus to establish good relations with the EU as soon as possible, Mr. Milinkevich said. "Our country's dependence on Russia is fast increasing," he noted. " In a few years, the dangerous loans that we're taking may lead to a disastrous situation where we don't have economic freedom and are totally dependent on Russia."
Another reason it is necessary to have normal relations with Europe is because the EU alone can seriously help Belarus with reforming its economy, Mr. Milinkevich said. "If Belarus meets the 12 conditions, the European Union will be able to help the country modernize and thus strengthen its independence," he noted.
To encourage the Belarusian government to take new steps toward democratization, the EU may "partially or fully lift all sanctions, gradually restore Belarus' [trade] preferences, and help its implement reforms," Mr. Milinkevich said. "As for those who oppose the removal of the sanctions, saying that this may halt the democratization process, I'd reply very calmly that sanctions can be imposed again overnight. It's necessary for the EU to demonstrate the seriousness of its intentions so that the Belarusian government's distrust gives way to belief that this process is positive for our country."
88 Killed in Aeroflot Plane Crash in Central Russia
The Russian airliner reportedly caught fire in the air and lost control as it readied to land in the city of Perm early morning Sunday.
The wreckage burned just metres from a residential community and debris blocked a section of Russia's Trans-Siberian railway.
Television showed firefighters and investigators sifting through the wreckage which was spread over about four square kilometres, officials said.
Investigators have recovered the aircraft's two black box recorders, which they hope will clarify the cause of the accident.
Aeroflot confirmed there were no survivors. Among the victims were citizens of Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Germany, the United States, France, Switzerland, Latvia, Turkey and Italy. Seven children died in the tragedy.
Among the dead was General Gennady Troshev, a government advisor and a key general in Russia's war in Chechnya, the country's transportation ministry was cited as saying by the news agency Interfax.
Irina Andrianova, spokeswoman for the Civil Defense Ministry, said the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control at around 1800 metres off the ground. The plane exploded into flames upon hitting the ground at 5.00 am (2300 GMT), she added.
A woman who witnessed the plane go down over her house told Vesti24 television the plane burst into flames in the air.
"It was burning in the sky. It looked like a falling comet," she said.
The Boeing 737-500, one of the most sold models in the world, was acquired by Aeroflot from China's Xiamen Airlines. The airplane was leased by Aeroflot until 2013 from Irish firm Pinewatch Limited.
President Dmitry Medvedev was being briefed on the crash and Transport Minister Igor Levitin was to fly to the site of the disaster, news agencies said.
Aeroflot has worked hard to reform its previous negative image, and has fought ongoing concerns over its ageing fleet and airline safety regulations.
The company immediately pledged to pay compensation of up to two million rubles (some $80,000 or 55,000 euros) for each victim and set up a crisis centre for relatives of victims at Moscow's Sheremetyevo-1 airport and in Perm.
Last month, 65 people were killed when a Boeing plane went down in the Russia's former Soviet neighbor Kyrgyzstan. An Aeroflot flight last crashed in 1994 over Siberia, killing 70 people.
Russian Troops Leave Western Georgia
|Russian armored vehicles (pictured last month) were reported leaving checkpoints in western Georgia, part of a partial pullout of forces agreed upon with European leaders.|
Russian soldiers and armored vehicles rolled out of six checkpoints and temporary bases in the Black Sea port of Poti and other areas nearby, Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said.
"They have fulfilled the commitment" to withdraw from the area by Sept. 15 under an agreement European Union leaders reached with Russia last week, Lomaia told The Associated Press. But he stressed that Georgia - like the West - demands a full withdrawal to pre-conflict positions.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko confirmed the withdrawal.
"Right now the withdrawal of our peacekeeping forces is happening from these posts," Nesterenko said in televised comments.
However, Lomaia said some 1,200 Russian servicemen still remain at 19 checkpoints and other positions, 12 outside South Ossetia and seven outside Abkhazia.
Russia said it would pull them out by Oct. 11 as long as a 200-strong delegation of European Union observers was in place by Oct. 1. However, OSCE documents seen by The Associated Press have raised questions over Russia's true willingness to accept the monitors.
The presence of Russian troops dug in deep in undisputed Georgian territory more than a month after the fighting ended has deeply angered Georgians and been an enormous sore point between Russia and the West.
Russia's military campaign in Georgia and its subsequent recognition of Georgia's separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations has plunged its relations with the United States and Europe into their worst crisis since the Cold War.
An Associated Press television crew saw Russian soldiers pack military trucks before dawn Saturday with blankets and other supplies at a post by a road leading to Abkhazia province. Among the items taken down - the Russian tricolor flag.
Four trucks stood packed and ready to leave the post in the village of Pirveli Maisi, along with an armored personnel carrier. A Russian column about the same size rolled past on a road leading to Abkhazia.
Russian forces left the two posts they had maintained for weeks on the outskirts of Poti, one by a bridge on a main road leading into the city and one a few miles from Georgia's main port and devastated naval base, Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said.
"Russian forces have withdrawn completely from Poti," he said.
A third Russian post established more recently by the port of Poti had also been vacated, Lomaia said. He said some 250 soldiers and 20 armored vehicles pulled out of their positions and headed toward Abkhazia.
Near the de facto border with Abkhazia, an Associated Press photographer saw several small columns of Russian armor crossing a bridge leading toward the breakaway region and military trucks heading across another bridge at a separate location.
The brazen presence in Poti had been particularly galling for Georgia because it is hundreds of miles from South Ossetia, where the war broke out and where most of the fighting occurred.
Under an additional agreement forged last week, the Kremlin promised to withdraw from Poti and other posts in western Georgia by Monday and from all its positions on Georgian territory outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia within 10 days of the deployment of EU observers.
But in Vienna, confidential OSCE documents revealed that Russian forces and their separatist militia allies were deliberately keeping international monitors out of South Ossetia, where large numbers of Georgian homes have been looted and burned down.
The documents obtained Friday by The Associated Press say Russian troops stopped some observers from entering South Ossetia as recently as two days ago.
Western governments also say Moscow's plans to maintain 7,600 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the long term violates a provision in the cease-fire calling for both sides to return to positions held before the conflict erupted.
Georgian troops tried to retake South Ossetia by force on Aug. 7, but were quickly repelled by Russian tanks, troops and warplanes. The Russian military then drove deep into Georgia, occupying large swaths of territory before an initial withdrawal in late August.
The five-day war killed hundreds of people and drove over 150,000 people from their homes.
Ukraine's Crimea dreams of union with Russia
From: Khaleej Times
And, to some, the prospect of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula joining Russianow appears a little more plausible following Moscow's war with Georgia last month and its recognition of two Georgian separatist provinces.
"We're living in the dream that the Crimea can become Russian again," said Angelina Mamonchikova, a local activist in Sevastopol, the Soviet-era port in southern Ukraine at the heart of the irredentist quest.
"We have to believe it, otherwise we'd go mad," said Mamonchikova, whose nails are painted blue, white and red -- the colours of the Russian flag -- and who took part in a protest this month against the arrival of a US ship.
While the sight of 100 people chanting "Yankee, Go Home!" on the quay at Sevastopol hardly seems noteworthy, many locals share the anti-Western and pro-Russian views of protesters who often take to the streets.
The Crimea was originally taken over by Russia in the 18th century and then formally handed over to Soviet Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at a time when internal Soviet borders hardly mattered.
Fifty-eighty percent of the Crimea's inhabitants say in surveys that they have a Russian background, compared with 25 percent Ukrainian and 13 percent Crimean Tatars.
The Kremlin's justification of military action in Georgia as a way to defend Russian citizens and its subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have given hope to Russian-speakers in the Crimea, many of whom hold Russian passports.
"A lot of people are rubbing their hands with glee," said Olexander Formanchuk, a Ukrainian political analyst, while European officials fret that Ukraine could be the next target for intervention by Russia.
Many local residents are also disillusioned with the chaotic political scene in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and the pro-Western government's desire to join the NATO military alliance, a bid fiercely opposed by Russia.
"What good has Ukraine done for us? Nothing!" said Vadim, a taxi driver in Sevastopol. "On my son's report card it says "ethnic minority language'. Who do they think they are? It's they who are the minority here!"
A law enforcement official in Simferopol, a city of some 300,000 people, the biggest in the Crimea, told AFP on condition of anonymity: "The authorities are not doing anything for the Crimea, they couldn't care less."
But the prospect of a genuine separatist movement appears far-fetched, observers said. Radicals are weakly represented at local assemblies and pro-Moscow rallies rarely draw more than a few hundred people.
The presence of a large minority of Tatars, an ethnic group that was expelled from the Crimea in Soviet times, also lessens the chances of a Georgia-type scenario because of their strong opposition to Moscow.
Assertions by Ukrainian officials that there has been a "massive" increase in the number of Russian passports being given to residents of the Crimea have also been denied as a "provocation" by Russian officials.
Some local residents are also more practical about joining Russia.
"So we break off the Crimea and then what do we do? How are Russians going to deliver supplies and all the rest?" said Vladimir Sukhomlinov, a businessman in Sevastopol, referring to the Crimea's lack of a land border with Russia.
That's little reassurance for Galina Gorbunova, an elderly woman selling guided tours on the quay at Sevastopol. "Of course we're scared there could be a war," Gorbunova said.
Poles and other EU criminals flock to Scottish haven
Fugitives wanted in their home countries for offences ranging from embezzlement and theft to rape have targeted Scotland, attracted by existing immigrant communities as well as the remote geography.
Almost half of the extraditions are to eastern European states admitted after EU expansion in 2004, and Poles make up approximately a third of the total.
David Dickson, the deputy head of the Crown Office department responsible for extraditions, said: "We have been averaging at two or three a week this summer. About 30% of them are for people from Poland."
Based on population, Scotland is attracting more fleeing EU criminals than England. Scotland accounts for 9% of the UK population but gets 15% of the UK's extradition requests.
Dickson said: "Perhaps people think that somewhere like Scotland they have the chance to escape the long arm of the law. Well, they're wrong."
The case of Polish migrant worker Robert Labutin is typical. For two years he hid in Edinburgh with a job, girlfriend, baby, council house, bank loan and a sick mother to look after. But the 30-year-old was also a fugitive and should have been serving a two-year sentence in his native Poland for drug-dealing.
He was also wanted in his home town of Koszalin, in the country's north-west, on an allegation that, along with another party, he used threats to force a child to have sex. If found guilty, he will face up to 15 years in jail.
Labutin, who lived in Bo'ness, was last month ordered to be extradited to Poland. He had, Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard last month, been "unlawfully at large" in the country.
Like Labutin, many fugitives simply fail to do enough to hide their identities. Labutin even rented his council house in his own name.
Polish authorities last year sought more than 250 fugitives in England and Wales alone. As many as one in 20 of them had been in trouble in the UK before they were caught. At one point there were so many people awaiting to be extradited that the Polish government sent a charter plane to pick them up.
Football fans allege police torture
From: The News
According to the fans, policemen used physical and psychological violence in order to force confessions to charges of participation in an illegal gathering, leveled against 752 people detained during the riots.
Over 200 hooligans pleaded guilty but only eight of them were charged with more serious offences, including destruction of property and attacking a police officer.
All hooligans detained last week were banned from future matches at the Legia stadium for two years.
Boruc in trouble - again
From: The News
The problems seem to pile up for Poland's best goalkeeper Artur Boruc. The Celtic Glasgow star was recently suspended from the Polish national team for unacceptable behaviour. Now, the Scottish Football Association wants a word with him on the obscene gesture he made to the Glasgow Rangers fans during a match on 31 August.
The player has a history of trying to anger the fans of the opposing team.
He is to answer before the association on 16 September after he was photographed during a match showing the middle finger to the Rangers fans. If he is considered guilty, he faces a fine or suspension.
In the past, Boruc repeatedly stressed his Catholic faith and devotion to Pope John Paul II to play on the nerves of the traditionally Protestant Rangers fans.
In August, after a World Cup elimination match against Ukraine, Boruc drank alcohol against the orders of the coach, for which he was suspended for an indefinite period.
Belarus Best Helpless Andorra
Dzmitry Verkhovtsov opened the scoring, chesting the ball down from a free-kick to slot home shortly after the half-hour mark.
Perennial minnows Andorra did manage a goal, but only through a penalty. Verkhovstov fouled Fernando Silva in the area and, after the hour mark, Marc Pujol converting from the spot.
Belarus had difference makers on the bench though, as Vitaly Rodionov came off the bench to score a goal with 12 minutes from full time following a pass from Barcelona's Aleksandr Hleb.
His namesake Vyacheslav, another substitute netted a third in the dying minutes, having been set up by Rodionov.
Belarus will take heart from this win following their last-minute loss at the weekend to Ukraine courtesy of an Andriy Shevchenko penalty.
Rank outsiders from Belarus medal in Both B&VI Road Races
From: 7th Space
Only two fancied riders, both in the Women's event, occupied medal places decided in two of the tightest finishes seen during the three days of Paralympic road racing.
First to finish was the Women's Road Race (B&VI 1-3) with 2007 Paracycling World Championship winner Iryna Fiadotava and her pilot Alena Drazdova of Belarus blazing round the 72.6km course to take gold three seconds ahead of Karissa Whitsell and her pilot Mackenzie Woodring of the United States, gold medal winners in Athens four years ago.
The race's surprise package was complete unknown Genevieve Oullet and her pilot Mathilde Hupin of Canada with no international success to their names prior to this event. The Canadians took bronze ahead of Lindy Hou and her pilot Toireasa Gallagher of Australia who were strongly favored for at least silver having come second to Fiadotava at the 2007 World Championships.
In a sprint to the line, the Canadian pair crossed millimeters ahead of the Australians although both were given the same time, 5.42 seconds behind Fiadotava.
Fiadotava's win will be sweet revenge for the Belarus rider who was beaten to the silver by Whitsell in the Women's Time Trial (B&VI 1-3) on Friday. Spare a thought for Hou though who goes home empty-handed from the Road Race circuit having come fourth twice by milliseconds in both Road Race and Time Trial events.
No sooner had the crowd got their breath back from the Women's finish than they were treated, fittingly in the final Road Cycling event, to the competition's single most frantic rush to the line in the Men's Road Race (B&VI 1-3).
Belarus opposition accuses West over upcoming election
From: EU Business
"There is massive fraud being prepared ahead" of the October 28 parliamentary elections," said Lyavon Barshchevsky of Belarus's People's Front party.
Consequently, his party would withdraw from the campaign later this month, he added.
However, "very influential Western circles are preparing to recognize, though not without limits, the parliament as a legitimate authority and step up ties with it," Barshchevsky told reporters.
"The policy that is dictated from abroad is to leave the opposition without money, tie it hand and foot, and then say that it is weak," which would justify maintaining relations with the current regime, Barshchevsky argued.
"We think that the parliament cannot be recognized, as the electoral situation is even worse than in 2004."
But another opposition leader, former presidential candidate Alexander Milinkevich, took a different line.
He argued that although the election was unlikely to be honest, it was nevertheless a chance for the opposition to make itself heard.
"If the opposition makes it to parliament -- which Belarussian leader (Alexander Lukashenko) openly pledged -- it will mean they were appointed," he conceded.
"But even then we will have what we have not had in a dozen years -- opposition represented in the authorities," Milinkevich told the Vremya Novostei daily.
Only 46 out of 1,900 opposition applicants have managed to join local electoral commissions for the October 28 vote, the Vyasna rights group said.
European Union officials said on Saturday that EU nations, pushed by Poland, were considering lifting sanctions against Belarus following the release of key opposition figures there.
The move came as Russia put pressure on its former Soviet satellite to recognise the breakaway Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In August, the EU welcomed the release of Belarus' highest-profile political prisoner, former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin.
He had been jailed in 2006 for leading a protest over alleged corruption in the election that returned Lukashenko to power that year.
Later in August, Belarus released its last two political prisoners.
With EU economic and visa sanctions still in place, Lukashenko -- described as "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, which has adopted similar sanctions -- is seeking to improve his image ahead of its parliamentary elections.