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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, December 07, 2008

Belarus Sees Great Potential With India, EU, Russia, Construction, Forex reserves decline,Alexy II dies, Polish scandals, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #366

    Belarus Sees Great Potential of Expansion of Relationship With India

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    “Belarus values its relationship with India and is proud of it,” said President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Belarus Rajendra Kumar Tyagi on 4 December, held on the occasion of the expiry of the diplomat’s term of office.

    Alexander Lukashenko thanked the Ambassador for his efforts to consolidate the bilateral relationship between Belarus and India and expressed conviction that in his new office Mr Rajendra Kumar Tyagi would continue to promote cooperation between the two countries.

    During Mr Rajendra Kumar Tyagi ’s term of office, the bilateral trade relationship has expanded considerably. But, although the rate of trade growth is good, the potential of the bilateral trade relationship has not been exploited in full. And both sides should work on it. Last year, the bilateral trade in goods reached $183 million. From January to October 2008, it rose significantly and reached $351.3 million. The strategic goal here, as outlined by the leaders of Belarus and China, is to raise bilateral trade to $500 million by 2010.

    India is Belarus’ traditional trade partner in Asia. The two countries interact closely in many areas, and continuously coordinate their positions regarding further cooperation. For instance, on 17-18 November 2008, India hosted the fourth session of the Belarusian-Indian intergovernmental commission on cooperation in economy, trade, industry, science, technology and culture.

    According to Mr Rajendra Kumar Tyagi , Belarus and India indeed have great prospects for expanding their trade and economic relationship, and can actually boost their bilateral trade to $700 million by 2010.

    The Ambassador said that “success in the bilateral relationship has been ensured by the political will of the leaders of the two states”. He highlighted the close interaction between the two countries at the level of ministries and agencies.

    A major impetus to Belarusian-Indian interaction was given by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s state visit to India in April 2007 (the Belarusian leader visited India twice, first time in 1997).

    Belarus and India cooperate in an array of fields, including within the framework of international organisations. The cooperation between Belarus and India in the UN is mutually beneficial. The two countries have close or similar positions on major international peace and security issues. Cumulatively, the countries concur on the approaches to accomplishing the objectives and goals of the UN Millennium Declaration and implementing the resolutions adopted at major international conferences.

    It has been repeatedly stated at the level of India’s leadership that Belarus is India’s reliable and time-tested friend; and expansion of the relationship with Belarus is an area of strategic interest to New Delhi. The Indian leadership views Belarus as a country pursuing independent foreign policy and having political gravitas and playing the leading role in integration process in the territory of the former Soviet Union.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus government, National Bank asked to do their best to preserve markets

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has asked the government and the National Bank to use any instruments in order to sell products and preserve distribution areas. Alexander Lukashenko outlined the goals during his meeting with Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and Chairman of the Board of the National Bank Piotr Prokopovich on December 4, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

    The meeting touched upon the global situation in view of the financial crisis as well as the measures the government and the National Bank have to take to minimise the impact of crisis phenomena in Belarus.

    “However, working to stockpile finished goods inventory is absolutely inadmissible. If we lose working capital, companies will be left without money and the products will stay in warehouses unsold. I would like this demand to be made clear to all executives,” stressed the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko also said, in late 2008 and early 2009 he plans to concentrate all the attention on the operation of Belarusian companies, especially sales of products.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded, the same day he had met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Belarus Rajendra Kumar Tyagi. “Today they are ready to set up a joint venture with our tyre factory and BelAZ. Here is our market for you. A huge market. It should be used,” the President said.

    He drew attention to the social aspect of overcoming the economic problems. “Whatever it costs enterprises should be preserved. In no way should people be fired due to the so-called global crisis. By no means should people be thrown out on the street like it is happening already in neighbouring countries. People should have jobs,” demanded Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We said that we will secure deposits of individuals. We said that we will not require declarations. I’ve been contacted by businessmen, who would like to transfer up to $100 million from other countries to our banks. It means there is trust in the banking system. We can only welcome it. Foreign enterprises and companies willing to transfer money to Belarus. Not only individuals but corporations as well. It means a lot. It should be encouraged. But we should be fair for everyone. Both our people and foreign juridical and natural persons,” the President told the Prime Minister.

    In addition, Alexander Lukashenko remarked, only economic methods should be used to resolve urgent economic problems and small and medium companies should be supported. “We should try to use the present global economic situation to our advantage, for the benefit of the country,” added the head of state.

    Sergei Martynov, Eneko Landaburu discuss Belarus-EU cooperation prospects

    From: BelTA
    The prospects of further interaction between Belarus and the European Union were on the agenda of a meeting between Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov and Eneko Landaburu, Director General of External Relations of the European Commission. The meeting took place in Helsinki within the framework of the 16th session of the OSCE Ministerial Council, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry press service.

    At the opening plenary on December 4, the OSCE Ministerial Council was welcomed by Finnish President Tarja Halonen and OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb.

    The head of the Belarusian delegation, Sergei Martynov, attended a working meeting of the foreign ministers of the CSTO member states. The sides issued a joint statement on the support of the initiative of the Russian Federation on the new European Security Treaty.

    Sergei Martynov also met with the foreign ministers of Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark to discuss the bilateral relations and expansion of multilateral cooperation.

    MPs to discuss Union State security

    The deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of Belarus-Russia Union State will discuss the ways of addressing the present-day problems of the Union State security. This issue will be highlighted at a session of the PA permanent seminar on the Union State construction that is due to take place in Minsk and Baranovichi on December 15-17, the PA press service told BelTA.

    Attending the session will be also members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Union State Permanent Committee, the CIS, the CSTO, the EurAsEC executive bodies, the Security Councils of the ministries and agencies of Belarus and Russia, scientific society of the two countries.

    The session is supposed to discuss the state and major guidelines of improving the state and public security as well as the issues of military security of the Union State, the ways of its strengthening.

    The participants of the seminar will consider the issues of changing the geopolitical current situation, the ways to counteract cross-border threats. Among other issues will be coordination and cooperation in the field of the Union State security, prevention of conflicts and crises, their prognostication and settlement. The session will also focus on the issues of improving the information security in the Union State.

    The plenary sessions of the seminar will take place in Minsk. While in Baranovichi the participants of the session will meet with the administration of the town and visit military units.

    Belarus joins RC/RC efforts to fight AIDS, tuberculosis

    From: BelTA
    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will officially announce the accession of Belarus, Armenia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, BelTA learnt from chief public relations specialist of the Belarusian Red Cross Society Irina Karanchuk.

    The international federation is stepping up its work to fight the epidemic by uniting the efforts of the member states on the grass-root, national and international levels. The programmes implemented by European RC/RC societies include awareness raising, and providing social, psychological and legal assistance for HIV positive people. A European HIV and tuberculosis alliance is a significant step forward.

    The accession will be announced at the annual meeting of ERNA - the European Red Cross and Red Crescent Network on HIV/AIDS which is being held in Belgrade (Serbia) on December 5-8. Taking part in the event are representatives of the national RC/RC societies of the European region.

    In 53 European countries about 2.2 million people are HIV positive, including 1.6 HIV+ people living in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

    “The spread of the HIV/AIDS could have been restrained. But it did not happen because of ignorance, stigma, indifference and denial,” said Mukesh Kapila, Special Representative of the IFRC Secretary General and Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the IFRC Global Alliance for HIV.

  • Economics...

    Heads of CIS agricultural industry approve of Belarus’ project on meat and dairy market

    From: BelTA
    The CIS intergovernmental council for agricultural industry the session of which was held in Chisinau on December 4 approved of the set of measures developed by Belarus to establish a CIS common meat and dairy market for the period till 2012. The document was developed in line with the agenda of the session, BelTA learnt from Valery Belsky, Director of the Institute of System Studies in Agricultural Industry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    With a view to securing efficient work of the meat and dairy market, Belarus proposes to harmonize the structure and coordinate the volume of the interstate trade, develop comprehensive projections of the supply and demand and develop an optimal scheme of deliveries and a mutually acceptable pricing policy.

    Valery Belsky underlined that it is important to develop the monitoring methods for markets, joint programmes and investment projects, to work out trade regulations between the market players, pricing agreements, commercial risks insurance, formation and utilization of special financial and stabilization funds.

    Apart from that, the sides propose to adopt unified standards and certification methods for meat and dairy products; to work out a coordinated approach to the trade in these products with the non-CIS countries.

    A unified automated information system might be set up to simplify the marketing of meat and dairy products in the CIS member states.

    The establishment of a CIS common meat and dairy market will help maintain the sustained development of the branch, optimize the production and sales of meat and dairy products on the CIS and non-CIS markets, secure a more efficient use of resources, support and protect the enterprises of the agricultural industry, encourage trade, guarantee food security in the CIS. These efforts are to result in a better food supply, improved level of life, especially that of the rural population, an enhanced competitiveness of the CIS meat and dairy products on the global market.

    Rapid growth of agricultural industry guarantees Belarus’ food security

    In 2008 and in the previous years Belarus managed to completely guarantee its food security due to the rapid growth of the agricultural industry, Deputy Agriculture Minister of Belarus Vasily Sedin said at a session of the CIS intergovernmental council for agricultural industry in Chisinau on December 4.

    Vasily Sedin said that in 2008 the national agricultural industry produced the following amount of main foods per capital: 915 kg of grain, 910 kg of potatoes, 225 kg of vegetables, 376 kg of sugar, 90 kg of meat and 625 kg of milk. He underlined that it exceeds the recommended consumption norm of these products.

    According to Vasily Sedin, Belarus is interested in the expansion of its agricultural export and is actively working in this direction with Russia and other CIS countries. Belarus is also interested in setting up joint ventures with CIS member states to produce agricultural machinery.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus forex reserves decline to $4.544 bln

    From: Forbes
    Belarus's foreign exchange reserves fell to $4.544 billion as of Dec. 1 from $4.801 billion at the beginning of November, despite receiving a $1 billion loan from Russia, according to central bank data made public on Friday.

    Reserves of the ex-Soviet state have been falling steadily since August when authorities began supporting the Belarussian rouble, pressured against the dollar by the global financial crisis.

    Reserves stood at $3.4 billion on Nov. 1, 2007.

    'At a time when currency revenues of our enterprises are getting smaller, the central bank must ensure the stability of the national currency,' central bank spokesman Anatoly Drozdov told Reuters.

    The Belarussian rouble has slipped to 2,174 to the dollar from 2,111 in September.

    Belarus is currently engaged in discussions with the International Monetary Fund on a $2 billion loan authorities describe as a 'safety cushion'. A new mission is due to arrive in the ex-Soviet state later this month.

    EU calls for deeper ties with ex-Soviet states

    From: AP
    The European Commission proposed Wednesday that the EU improve stability on its eastern doorstep by improving relations with Ukraine and five other ex-Soviet republics, countries Moscow regards as its backyard.

    The commission said the EU has "a vital interest in seeing better governance and economic development" in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine by reducing Russia's sway over those nations.

    The European Commission urged EU governments to offer free trade, association accords leading to economic assistance, security and defense consultations, and far-reaching economic integration with the 27-nation European Union.

    The report proposes to triple EU aid to the six countries to euro1.5 billion by 2020. It is silent on EU membership — something Ukraine wants.

    The report is to be discussed by the EU leaders at a March summit.

    European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Moscow's war with Georgia last summer was a reminder of Russia's influence in former Soviet republics.

    The proposed Eastern Partnership is "not about drawing a new division of Europe," he told reporters. "We want to support reforms that (ex-Soviet republics) are willing and ready to undertake. The time is ripe to open a new chapter in relations with our Eastern neighbors."

    The European Commission's report reflects an EU-Russia standoff that has intensified in recent years, notably due to energy disputes.

    Russia — which has vast gas and oil reserves but invests little in their development — seeks to boost its sway over countries with large Russian-speaking populations.

    The EU, which gets about one-third of its oil and about 40 percent of its natural gas imports from Russia, hopes to become less dependent on Moscow.

    That is one reason the EU has expressed concern about Russia's commitment to democracy and wants to pull Russian neighbors closer with promises of economic growth.

    The report said the EU must seek "diversification of energy routes" by enabling the ex-Soviet nations to build new and better connected pipelines and oil and gas storage facilities.

    The EU wants to see a gas pipeline from the Caucasus fully skirting Russia. Russia is pushing for deals under which Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will ship their Caspian Sea gas through Russia.

    The EU report warned this would make energy supplies more vulnerable.

    It said stepping up relations is only possible if there is "sufficient" progress toward democracy, the rule of law and human rights. This is relevant for Belarus whose authoritarian regime is shunned by the EU but has good relations with Moscow.

    The idea for an Eastern Partnership resulted from French President Nicolas Sarkozy's push this year for a Mediterranean Union linking the EU to Israel and its Arab neighbors. That has been watered down due to objections in Germany and other countries that believe it is more crucial for the EU to reach out to eastern neighbors.

    Minsk church hosts memorial service for head of Russian Orthodox Church

    From: Navany
    Minsk’s main Orthodox Christian church on Friday hosted a memorial service for Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who died earlier in the day.

    The service in the Holy Spirit Cathedral was led by Henadz Dzichkowski, while Archimandrite Alexy Shynkevich delivered a speech.

    Minsk clergymen and public figures attended the ceremony, the Rev. Shynkevich told BelaPAN.

    The patriarch died at the age of 79. No reason for the death has been given but reports have it that he had been sick for some time.

    Alexy II paid his sixth, last visit to Belarus this past October. During the visit, Alyaksandr Lukashenka presented the top Orthodox cleric with the Order of Honor in recognition of his “considerable personal contribution to the spiritual revival of the Belarusian people and the strengthening of friendship and cultural ties between the peoples of Belarus and Russia.”

    While in Belarus, the patriarch lavished praise on Mr. Lukashenka for his assistance in the restoration and construction of Orthodox churches and his “warm attitude” toward the church. “Doing good is a great act. I have visited many places and seen how people appreciate you,” he said.

    BRICKS & MORTAR: The "erection index" applied to Russia and Belarus

    From: Business News Europe
    Developers refer to the "erection index" tongue in cheek. The index is an economic indicator, which has proven over time to be pretty accurate, that suggests whenever a country embarks on building the "tallest tower in the world," it's well on its way to suffering some sort of financial crisis. Moscow has just stopped work on its tallest tower, but Minsk has just started work on its one.

    Russia broke ground on the construction of the Russia Tower at the end of 2007, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster. Due to be the tallest tower in Europe at 610 metres with 118 floors, it was also the centrepiece of the Moscow City development, Russia's answer to Canary Wharf.

    Then the crisis hit in September and work the tower was scrapped on November 21. Real estate magnate Shalva Chigirinsky, who had the contract to build the tower, said he had run out of money. "Say thanks to [former US federal reserve chairman] Alan Greenspan and George Bush," Chigirinsky told Reuters bitterly.

    This is the second time the tower has been laid low by a crisis. The last time the cranes were over the Moscow City development was in 1998 when they had just started preparing the ground for the SBS Tower, as it was known then, which was due to be occupied by a failed bank of the same name. But after the government defaulted on its debt and devalued the ruble, all work on both the tower and the City project was iced for almost a decade.

    However, work on the Russia's tower's little sister, the Federation tower, at 506 metres and 93 floors, is still going ahead and is more than half finished. It is due to be completed next year and will take over the mantel of tallest tower in Europe if it gets that far.

    The Minsk Massive

    By the index's reckoning, Minsk has just started on a four-year long economic boom that will end in a crisis sometime before 2020 when the 45-story tower is due to be complete.

    The work is being done by the Russian company Itera-Invest-Story, which is the construction arm of the famous gas trading company Itera and also includes well-known Indian entrepreneur Shiv Khemka's Sun group as an investor, who together form the strategic investors.

    Minsk City, as the development is called, covers six hectares in the heart of the capital. There will be a residential complex, two towers that will hold offices, retail, an entertainment complex and about 3m square meters (sqm) of residential space - enough for 60,000 residents. The demand for the planned 550,000 sqm of office space should be infinite for the simple reason there is no class-A office space at the moment.

    Work on the two towers at the centre of the development is due to be completed by 2012 at a cost of $650m, but the plan is invest a stunning total of $5bn in the whole complex by 2020 - equivalent to a sixth of Belarus' current GDP. Ten famous architects have already bid to design the project, including the inevitable offer from Norman Foster. A decision on the design will be made in the New Year.

    Another familiar face working on the project as a member of the Minsk City board is Vladimir Resin, the deputy mayor of Moscow, who has overseen most of the construction boom in the Russian capital for most of the last decade. Russian real estate company SU-155, which works closely with the Russian government, is also involved while the Minsk Municipal Real Estate Centre represents the locals.

    Finally, Russia's Vnukova Airport company has also been roped in to help, as part of the territory is occupied by the Soviet-era airport and aviation workshops that will have to be moved to the new airport that is also on the drawing board.

    Itera's chairman Sergei Makarov said: "Currently, our plans in Belarus are focused on urban development which is a relatively new business for us. We already have 15 projects in Russia, but this is the first project we have undertaken in Belarus."

  • From the Opposition...

    Brest: civil activists are fined for protesting

    From: Viasna
    On 3 December the judge of the Leninski district of Brest Andrei Vasiliuk delivered a decision to fine each of three participants of the picket in Lenin square of Brest 70 000 rubles (about $33).

    The opposition activist Zhana Abramava organized a picket because she had been evicted from an apartment. Yuras Bakur and Ivan Stasiuk came to support her.

    Brest human rights activist Yuras Zhydovich told to RFE/RL that many people came to court to supports the picketers.

    ‘Many civil activists, members of different opposition parties and journalists were present at the trial.

    The judge said the participants of the picket violated the Law on Mass Events, in particular, article 12.34 (violation of the rules of picketing). The judge said they should have applied for holding of the picket. The court confined itself to minimal punishment. It might be explained by doubtful nature of the picket,’ the human rights activist says.

    It should be reminded that a protest picket was organized in the central square of Brest yesterday. The participants of the picket protested against forceful eviction of Zhana Abramava from an apartment where she has lived for 20 years.

    Human rights activists of Brest think the eviction is a result of persecution of Zhana Abramava for her oppositional political activity.

    Repressions in Belarus go on: New tactics of persecutions and bans

    From: Charter '97
    Though no mass street actions or political campaigns are held in Belarus, persecution of democratic activists goes on. Control over society remains strong and tight, human rights activists note.

    As Deutsche Welle reminds, Mikhas Novikau, head of Navapolatsk office branch of “The Youth of the BPF”, and activist of the organisation Andrei Halavitsyn were detained in Navapolatsk in the evening, December 3. The young men left a club after a rock gig and were suddenly caught by militia. Some stickers were found on the activists, but this fact is not a ground for administrative persecution. As local human rights activists report, though the guys were sober, they were guarded to a militia station and then to a detoxication center where they had to spend the night.

    The Minsk city executive committee didn’t permit activists of the “Young Front” to hold a picket at the monument to Lenin on Independence square on December 8, anniversary of USSR collapse. Nasta Palazhanka, Alyaksei Yanusheuski, and Nasta Loika applied for the picket. Paval Nazdra, coordinator of the “Young Front” in the Homel Region, was rejected a picket near the monument to Lenin in Mozyr, scheduled for December 8. It is known that the local authorities banned pickets in Pinsk, Kobryn and other towns on this day.

    On December, activists of Brest branch of the “Young Front” stood trials. Judge Miranyuk sentenced Zhanna Abramava, Yury Bakur and Ivan Stasyuk to fines of two basic unit, or 25 euro, for an authorised picket. Last Tuesday, the “Young Front” members were detained during a rally in support of young activist Zhanna Abramava, who, according to the activists, was unlawfully evicted from her apartment. The young men brought a camp cot to Lenin square, rolled themselves in national white-red-white flags and held posters in hands “I was evicted. I live here”. In spite of administrative punishments, the young activists promise to continue holding pickets in support of Zhanna Abramava.

    Salihorsk executive authorities banned a concert of Belarusian musicians dedicated to the World AIDS Day. Initially, the administration of the Culture Center and cultural department of the district executive committee approved a proposal of the youth, but having learnt there were “Young Front” members among the organisers, the authorities decided to ban the gig.

    Rallies of solidarity with Alyaksandr Barazenka, involved in the Process of 14, who is waiting for his trial in the detention facility, were held near the detention facility in Valadarski Street every night during this week. The young activist is to stand trial on December 8. It should be noticed that no activists were detained this week unlike the previous one.

    Estimating state of human rights in Belarus, lawyer and human rights activist Valyantsin Stefanovich noted that the authorities have begun to avoid direct persecution of citizens on politically motivated grounds. It can be considered a positive sign. Only the above mentioned Alyaksandr Barazenka is in the detention facility now, though up to 10 people were in jails in the past years.

    The human rights activist noted we can’t say about radical changes for the better. “Control over the society remains rather strong and tight, civil rights are restricted, but the authorities don’t seem to make systematic steps towards democratization and liberalization of the situation,” Valyantsin Stefanovich said. “It is the most likely a rapid reaction of the authorities to negotiations with the European Union, it is difficult to forecast what will be a result of it in the future, different variants are possible.”

  • Around the region...

    Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksy II dies at age 79

    From: IHT
    Patriarch Aleksy II of the Russian Orthodox Church, who presided over the restoration of his church as the largest Orthodox church in the world and a powerful influence in Russian society after decades of Soviet persecution, died on Friday at his country residence in Peredelkino, outside of Moscow. He was 79.

    The Moscow Patriarchate said that doctors were determining the cause of death. The patriarch had reportedly suffered from myocardial ischemia for years and been treated in Russia and at European clinics.

    Aleksy II, who became patriarch in 1990, significantly deepened the role of the church in Russia's everyday life - erecting and restoring cathedrals, introducing Orthodox religious education in public schools and becoming a prominent voice on moral issues. During Russia's war with Georgia last August over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, he called for peace and reminded Russians that Georgia is also an Orthodox country.

    But he was often criticized for the church's close ties to the Kremlin. Last year, after Vladimir Putin selected his close aide, Dmitri Medvedev, to succeed him as president, Aleksy praised the move on national television.

    Both Putin and Medvedev have identified themselves as Orthodox Christians and strongly supported the church. Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Communist leader of modern Russia, was more ambivalent about his religious faith and relationship with the church, but he had warm personal ties to the patriarch.

    The religious transformation that Aleksy II oversaw in Russia was underscored by Yeltsin's funeral in 2007 at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Within view of the Kremlin, the vast church was blown up on Stalin's orders in 1931, rebuilt in the 1990s, and now hosts the most significant religious events.

    The choice of Aleksy II's successor will be closely watched for signs of Kremlin influence.

    Medvedev, who was visiting India when the patriarch died, will cancel a visit to Italy and return to Moscow, Reuters reported from New Delhi. In a statement, Medvedev said that "a great sorrow has befallen our nation."

    "He was an outstanding religious figure and true spiritual leader, and he was also a great citizen of Russia, a man whose destiny reflected all the great trials and upheavals that our country traversed in the 20th century, a critical time in our country's history," he said. Putin, now prime minister, called the patriarch not only a great religious leader "but also a great statesman."

    Aleksandr Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, offered enthusiastic tribute.

    "A great man has died, and with him an entire era," he said in a statement. The patriarch "was always a spiritual pillar for millions of believers in Russia, a person who devoted all of his efforts toward the moral education of our society."

    Aleksy II was the first leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to be chosen without interference by the Soviet state, which killed clergy and believers and destroyed churches but allowed a church hierarchy under tight control.

    The patriarch took the helm of the church in June 1990, just days before Russia declared its sovereignty within the U.S.S.R. in the waning days of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika and just over a year before the August 1991 coup, a thwarted effort to restore Soviet rule.

    On Aug. 19, 1991, as tanks rolled into Moscow, the patriarch was leading a service on the Kremlin's Cathedral Square outside the Cathedral of the Dormition. He served his last liturgy at the cathedral on Thursday, just a day before his death.

    Last December, Aleksy II reported that the Russian Orthodox Church had more than 730 monasteries, nearly 28,000 parishes and 30,000 priests and deacons under its jurisdiction, which includes the former Soviet Union. According to a 2007 poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 75 percent of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox, although polls show less than 10 percent attend church regularly.

    The church is centered in Russia - the seat of the Moscow Patriarchate is Moscow's Danilov Monastery - but was founded in Kievan Rus, now Ukraine, in 988. To this day the Moscow Patriarchate's rule spreads across what was once the Russian Empire, which later became the Soviet Union.

    Russian Orthodox churches survive from Belarus to Moldova to Kazakhstan. But while the church has survived as a centralized structure, it has also experienced the pull away from the center that precipitated the Soviet collapse.

    The divisions are particularly acute with Estonia and with Ukraine, which has been riven for centuries by an east-west division between Russian Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics known as Uniates - a rift exacerbated in recent years by creation of a Kiev patriarchate with a Ukrainian nationalist tinge.

    NATO-Russia deal shows EU influence

    From: UPI
    NATO's move to resume talks with Russia shows the increasingly key role the European Union is taking in setting the West's agenda with Moscow, analysts say.

    EU leaders have expressed skepticism at NATO saber-rattling in the wake of Russia's conflict with Georgia this year and have also been wary of a confrontational approach taken by the Bush administration toward Moscow, Time Magazine reported Saturday.

    NATO's move this week to restore ties with Russia is being seen as a victory for the EU view that the West must work closely with Moscow, analysts told the magazine.

    "With the Bush administration now the lamest of lame ducks, the NATO agreement reflect desires in Europe to avoid offending Russia -- especially on topics like Georgian and Ukrainian membership that many European leaders feel is an unnecessary provocation of Moscow," Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, told Time. "The U.S. didn't really push too hard on the membership issue, because it knew it couldn't win."

    At the NATO summit that ended Wednesday in Brussels, it was agreed to resume high-level relations with Moscow through a "measured and phased approach" to restoring ties.

    Putin: Russia may cut gas supplies to Ukraine

    From: AP
    Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Ukraine on Thursday that Russia will reduce gas supplies to Ukraine if it tries to siphon Russian gas intended for European consumers.

    The tough warning, which comes amid difficult talks on a price for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, will likely stoke fears in European nations that saw a drop in Russian gas shipments when Moscow cut gas to Ukraine in January 2006, amid a similar pricing dispute.

    "We are proceeding from the assumption that we won't have any problems with transit of gas to Western Europe," Putin said during a question-and-answer session televised nationwide. "But if our partners don't fulfill the agreements or try to siphon gas from the transit pipelines as they did in past years, we will be forced to reduce supplies. What else can we do?"

    Russia accused Ukraine of diverting transit gas during a 2006 supply cutoff. In another supply dispute in March, Ukrainian officials held out the possibility of siphoning off Europe-bound gas if necessary.

    Putin's words contrasted with previous statements from both Russian and Ukrainian officials who said that they hope the gas dispute won't lead to a disruption of supplies to Ukraine or European consumers, as was the case in 2006. Most of the gas Russia supplies to Europe goes through Ukraine.

    Putin said that state gas monopoly Gazprom has to raise the price Ukraine pays of $179.50 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is half of the price Gazprom charges its customers in Europe.

    Putin didn't say how much Russia wants to charge, but Gazprom officials have suggested that the price for Ukraine could top $400 next year.

    Gazprom also has demanded that Ukraine quickly pay off its debt for previous supplies, and talks on the issue are ongoing.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Truckers block Belarus border

    From: The News
    Lorry drivers have staged a protest, over the limit on the amount of fuel carried to Poland in petrol tanks, blocking the customs clearance of lorries on the border crossing with Belarus in Koroszczyn, western Poland.

    According to Cezary Grochowski, police spokesman in Biala Podlaska, western Poland, several lorries have blocked the pass to the terminal.

    The protest has been mounted by the Carriers Organization in Biala Podlaska, whose head Slawomir Kostian expressed his disappointment with the import fuel limits that, instead of being lifted by 1 December, have only been increased from 200 to 600 litres.

    "Such limits make customs officers measure the fuel amount carried in the tanks, thus lengthening the whole procedure and giving way to corruption," said Kostian, calling for rules enabling any fuel amount to be carried in a lorry tank.

    Protesters have decided to give way only to lorries carrying live animals and food that can go off easily.

    Carriers do not want to cut down the amount of fuel brought to Poland in lorries' tanks due to its lower price by our eastern neighbours.

    Commission orders Gorski apologise

    From: Polskie Radio
    Parliamentary Ethics Commission said, Thursday, that MP Artur Gorski of the Law and Justice party should apologize in the form of a parliamentary statement for his insulting comments about American president - elect Barack Obama.

    Head of the Commission Elzbieta Witek underlined that the Ethics Commission was willing to abandon its plan to punish Gorski, if apologies appeared in a proper form.

    Thus the Commission decided to stay legal proceedings, which were commenced, November, on application of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) head Grzegorz Napieralski.

    Napieralski petitioned the Commission to punish Artur Gorski for his statement in parliament, that Obama's election spelled “the end of white man’s civilization” and that the new US president was a “black crypto-communist”, which caused an international stir.

    Elzbieta Witek said that the apologies should be announced in the parliament, just like Gorski's former statement.

    Gorski told journalists that he probably will apologise, underlining, however, that he has two weeks to make up his mind.

    “I thought that my former statement would put an end to the matter,” said Gorski, referring to a statement he made earlier, claiming his remarks were taken out of context. “But it seems that it is the commission's reaction to my apologies that counts," said Gorski. He added that in terms of content the statement would probably be similar to the letter written to the Speaker of the Sejm, Bronislaw Komorowski from Civic Platform, in which Gorski apologized for the incident.

    RIGHTS-EUROPE: Scandal over CIA "Renditions" in Poland

    From: IPS News
    Portuguese European Parliament member Ana Gomes will ask the EU legislative body to restart the debate on stopovers in EU territory by secret CIA flights carrying prisoners captured in Afghanistan.

    The Portuguese socialist deputy became known for her active role in the European Parliament’s temporary committee on CIA flights and prisoner renditions (TDIP), set up to report on the use of EU airspace and airport facilities for the transportation of terror suspects to third countries for interrogation (known as "extraordinary renditions") between 2001 and 2005.

    Following two years of investigations which concluded last January, the committee reported that 336 stopovers had taken place in Germany, 170 in the United Kingdom, 147 in Ireland, 91 in Portugal, 68 in Spain, 64 in Greece, 57 in Cyprus and 46 in Italy, and issued recommendations to the EU.

    The committee lamented that it was not possible to verify the existence of secret detention centres in Poland, due to the Polish government’s lack of cooperation in the investigation, which according to the chairman of the committee, conservative Portuguese deputy Carlos Coelho, "fuelled suspicions."

    Among the main recommendations was a request to the European Commission, the EU executive body, to launch an "independent investigation" into the possibility that any of its member states violated human rights and fundamental freedoms by cooperating with the CIA.

    If found guilty, member states would face possible sanctions outlined in the EU treaty.

    Unlike Gomes’ previous requests, the latest one has found echo among politicians of the governing Socialist Party, led by Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates. Socialist officials want to question Foreign Minister Luis Amado on CIA flights authorised to pass through Portugal.

    Instead of joining the pro-U.S. voices in the party hostile to Gomes, former justice minister Jose Vera Jardim and former labour minister Paulo Pedroso are pressuring the executive to clarify whether any contacts took place between Lisbon and Washington, with a view to allowing CIA flights to pass through Portuguese territory.

    The deputies, both prominent figures within the ranks of the Socialist Party, asked the foreign minister if he had launched, or planned to launch, an inquiry into possible contacts between Portugal and the U.S. similar to those reported by the newspaper El Pais with regard to Spain.

    Citing an official document, the influential Spanish paper once again reported, in its Dec. 1 edition, that former conservative prime minister Jose Maria Aznar (1996-2004) authorised the stopover in Spanish airports of rendition flights headed for Guantanamo.

    The daily had previously reported that Portugal gave the go-ahead to CIA flights. Deputy Gomes had made the same accusation, in an interview with IPS.

    Amado has been asked by Vera Jardim and Pedroso to shed light on the possibility of Portuguese and U.S. authorities having established contacts similar to those reported by El Pais, and on whether or not such conversations were documented.

    The document leaked by El Pais dates back to January 2002, when Portugal was governed by the now United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres. Later that year Guterres was replaced by Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the current president of the European Commission, who headed the Portuguese cabinet until June 2004.

    Portugal’s foreign minister reacted by denying knowledge of "any official document in Portugal, whether in the Defense or Foreign Affairs ministry archives, that would compromise any previous cabinet on this matter."

    Amado has urged critics to "patiently await results," pointing to the ongoing "process in the Attorney General’s Office, which is free to investigate and access information."

    The inquiry began in January 2007 when, following an accusation by Gomes, Attorney General Fernando Jose Pinto Monteiro ordered an investigation into alleged illegalities committed by Portuguese governments.

    Asked by IPS to comment on the reasons behind her request to spark an investigation affecting a government headed by her own party, Gomes said it was the prime minister’s lack of substantive support in cooperating with the investigation that prompted her to submit "documents with relevant information" to Pinto Monteiro.

    She added that CIA flights "not only passed through Portugal, because they came from Spain and Italy, and the European Parliament also investigated Germany, Sweden and Britain," where, unlike in Portugal, there were no "attempts to obstruct the investigation."

    The European Parliament and human rights groups have accused Portugal of allowing suspicious plane stopovers in the Porto airport in northern Portugal, and in the Azores islands in the Atlantic, where the U.S. air base of Lajes lies halfway between Europe and North America.

    Most U.S. military flights were allowed by Portugal in the spirit of the Lajes agreement. However, stopovers by Saudi, Kuwaiti, French and British planes remain shrouded in mystery.

    Gomes points a finger at the slow pace of investigations, which she said was caused by an "aim to conceal. Many governments share this approach, centred on Durao Barroso’s attitude to silence it in the name of the alliance with the U.S.

    "It’s unacceptable for a state to obstruct the quest for truth in a case involving murder, torture, kidnapping and other human rights violations," added the European Parliament deputy.

    The Attorney General’s Office investigation should clarify whether the Lajes base was used by U.S. forces as an illegal detention centre for terror suspects seized mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

    "The team of European deputies engaged in this matter will not give up. We will push for a public debate and we want to know with how many of the European Parliament’s recommendations the 27 member states have complied with," said Gomes.

    El Pais claimed Washington had duly informed Portugal, Italy and Turkey of the CIA flights, and Gomes said "they were obviously notified."

    Noting recent changes in the world, Gomes called on "EU members, including Portugal, to decide how they will help the next U.S. administration, led by (Barack) Obama, to close Guantanamo."

    DJ Moyles sorry for Polish prostitute jibe

    From: PA
    DJ Moyles, tellin' it like it is
    Chris Moyles has apologised for seeming to suggest on his Radio 1 show that Polish people make good prostitutes.

    The 34-year-old DJ prompted complaints after telling listeners last month: "I've always found in my experience prostitutes make very good cleaners, and their ironing, brilliant.

    "I just find if you're Polish you're just very good at ironing... and prostitutes, (they're) very good also at fixing cars."

    Moyles said he did not intend to cause any offence.

    In a statement he said: "I didn't mean to link Polish people and prostitution in the way that has been suggested, but of course I realise that some people have taken it that way and to those people I'm sorry for the unintentional offence."

    The latest apology from the BBC comes in the wake of the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand prank calls scandal and actor John Barrowman exposing himself during a live Radio 1 show on Sunday.

  • Sport...

    Рустам Валиуллин был 9-м, а Дарья Домрачева 10-й в спринте на этапе Кубка мира по биатлону

    Лучшим из белорусских биатлонистов в мужской спринтерской гонке на 10 км, открывавшей сегодня предпоследний день первого этапа Кубка мира в шведском Эстерсунде, стал Рустам Валиуллин, занявший 9-е место, сообщает корреспондент БЕЛТА.

    Наш соотечественник допустил один промах (на втором огневом рубеже) и преодолел дистанцию за 26 мин. 26,9 сек. Белорусский биатлонист отстал от победителя Эмила-Эгле Свендсена из Норвегии на 44,6 сек. При этом на лыжне Валиуллин показал 12-е время, а в скорости стрельбы был 8-м. Итоговое 9-е место позволяет Рустаму рассчитывать на получение призовых, которые Международная федерация биатлона с нынешнего сезона выплачивает десяти лучшим атлетам каждого этапа.

    Серебро спринтерской гонки досталось поляку Томашу Сикоре (отставание от лидера 12,7 сек.), бронза - французу Симону Фуркаду (28,1 сек.).

    В число 40 лучших спортсменов, которым начисляются очки в общий зачет Кубка мира, попали еще два белорусских биатлониста. Сергей Новиков занял 29-е место (один промах и отставание от победителя в 1 мин. 30,7 сек.), Александр Сыман - 30-е (без промахов, 1 мин. 33,2 сек).

    Владимир Миклашевский с единственным промахом обосновался на 72-й строке (отставание 2 мин. 31 сек.), Евгений Абраменко послал "в молоко" две пули и финишировал 80-м, уступив победителю 2 мин. 47,7 сек.

    Всего стартовали 118 участников.

    Лучший из белорусских лыжников показал 39-й результат в масс-старте на 30 км на этапе Кубка мира

    Во французском Ля Клуза завершился первый день третьего этапа Кубка мира по лыжным гонкам. Лучшим из белорусских спортсменов стал Сергей Долидович, в мужской гонке с массовым стартом на 30 км занявший 39-е место, сообщает корреспондент БЕЛТА.

    Наш соотечественник преодолел дистанцию за 1 час 20 мин. 19,2 сек. и проиграл победителю норвежцу Петтеру Нуртугу 52,7 сек.

    Леонид Корнеенко показал 51-й результат (отставание от победителя 2 мин. 08,6 сек.), Александр Лазуткин до финиша не добрался. Всего на старт вышел 81 участник.

    В женской гонке с массовым стартом на 15 км белоруска Ольга Василенок заняла 44-е место. Ее результат - 46 мин. 39,8 сек. - уступает времени победительницы Кристин Штейры из Норвегии 3 мин. 23,8 сек. Еще одна белоруска Екатерина Рудакова не финишировала, а Елена Санникова на старт не вышла. Всего стартовало 65 участниц.

    Завтра, 7 декабря, третий этап Кубка мира завершится эстафетными гонками 4х5 км у женщин и 4х10 км у мужчин.

  • Cultural scene...

    Проект Руслана Вашкевича «Рифмы»

    Проект Руслана Вашкевича «РИФМЫ»

    В галерее «ПОДЗЕМКА» 6-21.12.2008

    Все мы – чьи-то рифмы, все вокруг – это внешнее соответствие нашим представлениям, совпадение интонаций, ритм тепло-холодных движений.

    Хочешь красиво жить – подражай искусству.

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  • Endnote...

    President of Belarus honours distinguished people of Belarus

    From: BelTA
    On December 4 the President of Belarus issued a decree to honour distinguished Belarusians for the many-year fruitful work, high production achievements, significant contribution to the development of culture, education, banking sector, construction industry, physical culture and sport, military service, BelTA learnt from the head of state’s press service.

    The Frantsysk Skorina Order has been conferred on Leonid Nekrashevich, artist-vocalist of the Armed Forces Academic Song and Dance Company of the Palace of Officers.

    The Medal for Distinction in Military Service has been awarded to senior warrant officers Sergei Mamol and Vladimir Shishlo, Lieutenant Pavel Stashkevich. The Medal for Distinction in the Public Order Protection has been conferred on Captain Anton Dolinchik.

    The Labour Services Medal has been presented to Gennady Alekseenko, the aide to the President of the Republic of Belarus for physical culture, sport and tourism and also some representatives of Belaruskali, Polotsk-Stkelovolokno and others.

    Art Director of the Belarusian Philharmonic Society Yuri Gildiuk, vocalist of the Belarusian State Musical Theater Irina Zayanchkovskaya, actors of the Brest Theater of Drama and Music Tamara Levchuk and Mikhail Metlitsky, First Deputy Chairman of the Belarus National State TV and Radio Company Alexander Salamakha have been awarded the Frantsysk Skorina Medal.

    Director General of Belpromstroibank Galina Kukhorenko and head of the Belpromstroibank office in the Mogilev oblast Ludmila Pavlova have been bestowed the title of merited economist.

    Coach of Minsk Specialized Youth Sports School No 3 Vladimir Sinyakevich has been bestowed the title of merited coach. Head of the Brest Zhelezobetonmontazh Construction Company Piotr Antoniuk has been given the title of merited builder.