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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, January 04, 2009

Another Belarus New Years Shocker: Ruble sinks 20 percent, IMF loan, Russia's Gazprom, Ukraine, Polish scandal, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #374

    Belarus' economy should quickly adjust to new conditions, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The Belarusian economy should adjust very fast to the new conditions prompted by the global financial crisis, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a session with the top officials of the Mogilev oblast on December 31, BelTA has learnt.

    The Belarusian Head of State underlined that decisive and principled people are in a great demand in Belarus now. It is the approach the President employs while considering the current personnel issues. "We have done all that could be done on the top level to improve the economy and people's life. Today we need decisive steps from other authorities. It is the reason why I appoint tough and principled people. It is prompted by a situation that can be brought about by crises processes that spread to the economic and financial life of the whole world. We will hardly be able to stay away from them, we are experiencing them already," Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President pointed out the complete uncertainty that reigns among the world experts, "Nobody knows how long the crisis will last and how it will develop. I once said that this crisis was largely caused by corruption. It has already been admitted on the level of the UN."

    The Head of State underlined that taking into consideration all these factors the country needs decisive and competent people, industrialists.

    Alexander Lukashenko added that no effort should be spared to develop import substituting production, to fill the domestic market with those products that the Belarusians can manufacture. "We should produce those goods that can be sold and bring profit which in turn could help preserve jobs and production," the Belarusian leader said.

    Next year's gas price may be roughly equal to this year's

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes that the natural gas price Belarus will pay in 2009 may be roughly equal to the price Belarus pays in 2008. The head of state made the statement at a session of the Mogilev oblast administration on December 31.

    "Oil prices have gone down by 3-4 times. Starting Q1 2009 natural gas prices will be high but we will pay a moderate price. By the end of 2009 the prices will fall by three times for sure regardless of what the natural gas price on the global market will be. A contract will be signed and will specify it all," underscored Alexander Lukashenko.

    In his words, "At least, if nothing has changed in negotiations with Moscow lately, we have an opportunity of getting roughly the same price as we have this year".

    Alexander Lukashenko: more initiative to heads of companies

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes that it is necessary to give more freedom to act to heads of companies, allowing them to use creative approaches for the benefit of the country.

    At a session of the Mogilev oblast administration on December 31 the head of state underscored that it is necessary to scrap the tactics of thoughtless administration, red-tape practices in decision-making in rapidly changing economic situations. In his opinion, the system of control and various limitations only suppresses the desire to take promptly decisions in one's own competence. Alexander Lukashenko also added, unconventional solutions are needed for overcoming crisis phenomena.

    "I warn you once again: leave heads of companies alone! They have to survive the difficult conditions, preserve the international market at any cost, sell products and avoid cutting jobs," said the head of state.

    The President underscored that energy saving and frugal use of available resources should be mandatory in business practices. "We should learn how to make more for less money and should get rid of any secondary excessive expenses. Nowadays it is the key requirement of the economic security and hence the national one," he remarked.

    Alexander Lukashenko mentioned positive changes in the development of the Mogilev oblast. A lot of industrial enterprises have been set up and upgraded in the region. The pace of the social and economic development is high. Investments are on the rise. The foreign trade develops successfully. However, the President underscored, the manufacturing and resource potential of the oblast has not been utilised in full. In his words, it is necessary to continue financial recovery of economic entities, technical upgrade, establishment of science-intensive and resource-saving enterprises, and reconstruction of chemical and petrochemical companies.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out at the end of the five-year period the oblast administration will have to make a report about measures taken to develop small and medium urban communities. According to the head of state, more attention should be paid to building new homes, social and cultural sphere, consumer services for individuals and the appointment of skilful and responsible professionals to executive posts. The President pointed out the lack of response to people's requests. In his words, there should be no superficial review of complaints and poor-quality decision-making for them.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarusian senators intend to discuss concept of draft law on agro-industrial productio

    From: BelTA
    On December 29, 2008 the Presidium of the Council of Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly considered the plan of action to prepare the draft laws for the H1 2009, BelTA has learnt.

    Senators are expected to discuss the concept of the draft law " On agro-industrial production", Evgeny Smirnov, the Chairman of the Permanent Commission for Legislation and State Construction, told reporters.

    The Council of Ministers of Belarus is responsible for the development of the concept. This will be the complex draft law adjusted to the international standards. The document will spell out who agricultural producers are, what farms and agro-industrial companies are. The document will determine the rules of game on the domestic and foreign markets, secure the measures of state support and the norms of making government procurement contracts.

    The Council of the Republic's Permanent Commission for Economy, Budget and Finances will consider the amendments and addenda to the law "On economic societies". The senators will hold an on-site session together with specialists. The amendments and addenda are expected to be discussed during the spring session. The document is aimed at protecting shareholders' rights. The law specifies the order of convening and holding of general meetings of members of an economic society, the mechanism of setting up of a audit commission, the rights and authorities of members of the board of directors.

    The Council of the Republic's Permanent Commission for Education, Science, Culture and Social Development will consider the law on social security of disabled persons and hold a seminar dedicated to the problems of pre-school education.

    Commissions of the two houses of the Belarusian Parliament will organize a round table to discuss the conceptual provisions of the Special Part of the Tax Code.

    Palestine calls on international community to help stop conflict in Gaza

    From: BelTA
    Palestine urges the international community to interfere in the Arab-Israeli conflict to stop the bombing of Gaza, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Palestine to Belarus Muntaser Abu Zeid said at a press conference in Minsk on December 31.

    He reminded, the bombing started on December 27. Four hundred Palestinians were killed during the last four days. Among them were 50 children and 10 women. Two thousands were injured, 200 of them were injured heavily. The borders of the Gaza strip are closed; 1,5 million are left without medicines, water, food and lighting.

    "The Palestine Liberation Organisation condemns the Israeli aggression and urges the international community to interfere in the conflict to stop the fire. We are for peace and are ready to honour the UN Resolution," the Ambassador said.

    The Palestinian people value highly the position of Belarus on the Palestinian problem based on supporting all the UN resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Ambassador said.

    Belarus urges to immediately cease the force actions in the Gaza Strip and to start resolving the existing problems through negotiations, reads a statement made by the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus regarding the Gaza Strip situation.

    "In view of the military operation in the Gaza Strip the growing escalation of tension in the Middle East raises serious concern. The Republic of Belarus condemns the use of force, which results in deaths of civilians of Palestine and Israel," reads the statement.

  • Economics...

    IMF to extend $2.5bn loan to Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will give Belarus a $2.5 billion, BelTA learnt from the IMF Office in Belarus.

    An IMF staff mission and the Government of Belarus have reached an agreement on an economic programme to be supported under a 15-month Stand-By Arrangement for $2.5 billion, reads the statement issued by Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on December 31.

    The issue regarding the provision of financial help to the Republic of Belarus will be subject to approval by IMF Management and the Executive Board in January next year.

    Belarus has addressed the IMF for financial help in order to increase its gold and foreign exchange reserves and create a safety net necessary for the stable performance of the economy amid the global financial crisis. The agreement with the IMF is a significant factor promoting the financial relations with the leading international organisations, the European Union.

    The measures, which Belarus has taken to restrict the negative impact of the outside factors on the economy, has contributed to reaching the agreement with the IMF.

    IMF loan to step up stability of Belarus economy

    The $2.5 billion loan the IMF will give to Belarus will increase the stability of the country's economy during the global financial crisis, said Alexander Luchenok, Head of the Macroeconomic Regulation and Institutional Economics Centre of the Economy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    The loan is important for the successful development of the Belarusian economy the next year. It will also alleviate the situation with the availability of foreign currency. It will provide additional manoeuvrability to the economy and will create good prospects for ensuring the stability of the Belarusian national currency. The expert said, to get the IMF loan, Belarus will likely have to comply with certain IMF requirements, which will be related to some reduction of the growth of incomes of individuals. Belarus will have to comply with the requirements, the expert said.

    Alexander Luchenok pointed out the importance of getting external loans for Belarus during the global financial crisis. The income of foreign currency in Belarus is decreasing due to the falling demand for Belarusian exports, he said. "In order to meet its obligations, Belarus needs available foreign currency. In this case the borrowing is justified".

    In the future Belarus' need for stabilisation loans will be primarily dependant on the volume of Belarusian export and the income of foreign currency. "It is impossible to give a precise forecast but the money we will receive from the deals with Russia and the IMF will be sufficient for the near future," the expert believes.

    The International Monetary Fund made a preliminary positive decision concerning the provision of a $2.5 billion loan to Belarus. An official statement made by the IMF executive director concerning the issue was published on December 31, 2008.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus ruble sinks 20 percent, shocking citizens

    From: AP
    Belarus' central bank sharply devalued the Belarusian ruble Friday, allowing the currency to plunge 20 percent to help stop the hemorrhaging of its reserves. The move came as an unwelcome shock to ordinary citizens.

    The National Bank said the devaluation was aimed at raising the competitiveness of the Belarusian economy, which has been battered by the global financial crisis. It also was a condition of a $2.5 billion loan from the IMF announced Wednesday.

    In the past six months the National Bank has spent about a quarter of its gold and hard-currency reserves keeping the Belarusian ruble stable against the dollar, euro and Russian ruble. The bank said its reserves stood at $3.8 billion on Dec. 1.

    The Belarusian ruble is now trading at 2,650 to the dollar, 3,703 to the euro and 90.6 to the Russian ruble.

    "I feel deceived by the government," said Galina Bychkevich, a 53-year-old history teacher at a currency-exchange point Friday. Her monthly salary of 800,000 rubles, which the day before was worth $360, had dropped to $300.

    "(President Alexander) Lukashenko loved to talk about the wild capitalism in the West and stability in Belarus, but now that fairy tale is over," she said.

    The devaluation will make imported goods more expensive and will likely drive up inflation. It comes after the government has already announced a 20 percent hike in electricity, heating and other municipal bills.

    Stanislav Bogdankevich, a former central bank chief who is now an opposition leader, said the Belarusian economy is in serious trouble, kept afloat mainly by support from Russia.

    The economy is still largely Soviet-style, with 80 percent of industry in state hands, and heavily reliant on cheap energy from Russia. Russia also has offered billions of dollars in loans.

    The National Bank said it spent $572 million supporting the Belarusian ruble in the three-month period of August to October. The bank has not released figures for the final two months of the year, but Bogdankevich estimated it had spent as much as $1 billion in November and December.

    "If the gold and currency reserves continued to decline at such a pace, soon the country would have no reserves at all," the former central banker said.
    Russia's ruble also has come under extreme pressure during the financial crisis. It has shed more than 20 percent of its value against the dollar since its high in early August.

    The Kremlin has been anxious to avoid a repeat of the 1998 financial crisis, when Russians rushed to withdraw their savings as the ruble plummeted suddenly. So it has been letting the ruble fall bit by bit in a managed float, intervening when necessary by using foreign currency reserves to buy rubles.

    Analysts estimate the Russian Central Bank has spent tens of billions of dollars to support the ruble during the global financial crisis.

    Russia's Gazprom sees no gas row with Belarus

    From: Guardien
    Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom, embroiled in a row with Ukraine about debts and gas supplies, said on Wednesday it will have no problems with Belarus on setting next year's price.

    Belarus, like Ukraine, depends on Russian gas which Gazprom has so far sold to it at cheaper rates than European market prices.
    Gazprom has threatened to cut Ukraine off on Jan. 1 if the country's debts are not paid off and a new supply deal is not signed.

    Europe is eyeing the row nervously -- it gets a quarter of its gas from Russia -- 80 percent of that flows via Ukraine and the rest through Belarus. A supply cut to Ukraine in 2006 affected European consumers.

    "We don't see any problems," Alexander Medvedev, the head of Gazprom's export arm, told a news briefing referring to negotiations with Belarus. He did not name a new price but said a supply contract could still be concluded next year.

    Belarus now pays $128 per 1,000 cubic metres and Russian media had reported that the price could rise to $240 per tcm. But Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said he expected prices to fall by the end of next year.
    "If nothing has changed recently in our talks with Moscow, there is a possibility of having approximately the same price as this year," Lukashenko was quoted by state news agency BELTA as saying.

    "Oil prices have fallen by a factor of three or four. In the first quarter of 2009 the price of gas will be high, but we will pay up diligently. By the end of 2009, prices will fall to a third," he was cited as saying.

    Minsk and Moscow rowed over gas prices in 2007, solving the dispute only in the final hours of the year.

    Rubel’s sharp devaluation will hit businesses hard, economist predicts

    From: Navany
    The sharp devaluation of the Belarusian rubel against major foreign currencies will hit the country’s businesses hard, economist Syarhey Balykin predicted.

    Retail space and office rent rates, “single tax” rates for sole entrepreneurs and the minimal amount of authorized stock capital for private businesses are all set in the euro in Belarus, he noted. “The strengthening of the euro will consequently lead to higher costs for Belarusian businesses,” Mr. Balykin, who leads a yet-unregistered small and medium-sized business association, told BelaPAN.

    “Sole entrepreneurs have gotten the worse end of the deal thrice. First, because of a coming rise in single tax rates. Second, because of the higher euro exchange rate and third, because of the fact that New Year sales are big as a rule, they sell for Belarusian rubels but buy goods for hard currency. And sole entrepreneurs had a fairly big amount in proceeds in the last days of 2008, which they will not be able to exchange for the previous sum in hard currency because of the new exchange rate,” Mr. Balykin said.

    Companies that have taken hard-currency loans and sell their goods in Belarus will be hit hardest as they get their proceeds in the rubel but have to repay the loans in a foreign currency, according to the expert.

    “They cannot hope to raise prices considerably. The population’s rubel incomes remain at the previous level and it cannot buy goods at higher prices,” Mr. Balykin said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Polish priest expelled from Belarus in spite of protests of believers

    From: Charter '97
    Deputy parish priest of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary church wasn’t prolonged his permit for religious activity in Belarus.

    As churchgoer Natallya Bayaryn told BelaPAN some tens of believers went to Lyudmila Harnak, head of the ideological department of the Barysau district executive committee, to defend priest Zbigniew Grygorcewicz. “But our demands to allow priest Zbigniew Grygorcewicz continue his religious activity in the country were left without response,” N. Bayaryn said. Gathering signatures for defence of the priest was unsuccessful, too. “We gathered more than 400 signatures and sent them to the local authorities and we are not going to stop. We will solicit the authorities for priest Zbigniew,” the churchgoer emphasised.

    N. Bayaryn noted the priest is respected not only by Catholics. “Thanks to the efforts of the priest a sporting ground was created near the church, ecumenical dialog between Christian churches of Barysau was continued, a festival of Christian music was prepared, but the city authorities banned it in September,” N. Bayaryn said.

    Maryna Tsvilik, head of the department of religion of the office of religious and national affaires, told BelaPAN reasons of the ban to prolong the permit for father Zbigniew could be explained by Leanid Parkhimovich, head of the council on religious and national affaires of the Minsk region executive committee. According to him, the council has no reasons to stop religious activity of priest Zbigniew, but, as L. Parkhimovich told BelaPAN, a decision on refusal was taken by the executive officer on religious and national affaires, who “had the right not to say a reason of the refusal”.

    Priest Zbigniew Grygorcewicz told in an interview to BelaPAN he was born in Poland, but his parents came from Belarus. In his view, he has worked in Belarus for three years and hasn’t violated the laws of the country during this time.

    According to unofficial information, besides Z. Grygorcewicz, three Polish nuns in Minsk-Mahilou Archdiocese were not prolonged the permit.

    Three Roman Catholic priests had from Hrodna Diocese had to leave the country in December this year.

  • Around the region...

    Gazprom Boosts Belarus Gas Supplies as Ukraine Dispute Deepens

    From: Bloomburg
    OAO Gazprom boosted gas supplies to Europe through Belarus as Russia’s dispute with Ukraine over pricing deepened and no new talks were scheduled.

    The Ukrainian negotiating team remained in Kiev and hasn’t said when it plans to return to Moscow, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told reporters yesterday. Talks between the two sides on the price of gas deliveries to Ukraine for 2009 and transit fees for Russian gas to Europe through the country broke down on Dec. 31 and Gazprom cut supplies of the fuel to Ukraine Jan. 1.

    Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas, 80 percent through Ukraine, is seeking to avoid further damage to its reputation after its August war with U.S.-allied Georgia. This week’s cutoff echoed a similar dispute in 2006 which disrupted supplies to Europe, calling into question Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier.

    “The long-term implication is that it will encourage Europe to diversify its supply,” Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, said yesterday. “Supply in Europe isn’t being threatened, at least not for the coming days. But give it a week and that may change.”

    Officials from Gazprom, Russia’s state gas exporter, are ready to travel to Brussels and European Union countries to explain Russia’s stance, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday. A Ukrainian delegation led by Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan was already on a tour of EU capitals, visiting Prague and Bratislava to hold talks on the gas price and debt conflict.

    Offer Withdrawn

    “It’s a game of nerves like it was three years ago,” Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center research group, said in a phone interview.

    Gazprom on Jan. 1 withdrew an offer to sell Ukraine gas at $250 per 1,000 cubic meters as the Ukrainian side pushed for a cheaper rate, saying the country must now pay a European market price of $418. Kupriyanov said Gazprom has increased shipments of gas through an alternative route via Belarus, and has capacity to send further supplies using that network.

    “The Belarus option is certainly viable and they could put some of the gas through Belarus,” Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at Oxford Energy, said. “But it certainly is not the solution. There is some spare capacity within the Belarus corridor but it is probably within the order of 10 percent from Ukraine capacity.”

    Ukraine, which relies on Russian gas for 70 percent of its needs, is in the midst of a financial crisis that has forced it to secure a two-year, $16.4 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. It is asking Russia to pay higher transit fees if it wants to raise gas prices.

    European Market

    The European Union urged Russia and Ukraine to “rapidly” resolve their dispute and said it counted on assurances gas supplies would continue uninterrupted. The U.S. said the two sides should resolve their differences “through good-faith negotiations, without supply cutoffs.”

    The main consumers of Russian gas transported through Ukraine said they were so far seeing little effect and were prepared for any drop. Slovakia and the Czech Republic yesterday said their supplies have so far been normal. Italy said it can meet any short-term demand from storage and could, if necessary, increase supplies from Algeria.

    Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe I Gazownictwo SA, Poland’s largest gas distributor, said Russian gas supplies via Ukraine were down and that deliveries via Belarus had risen to cover them.

    In Hungary, which saw deliveries fall as much as 35 percent in the 2006 dispute, there was a drop of pressure detected at the border, but no decline in the amount delivered so far, Edina Lakatos, a spokeswoman for Mol Nyrt. unit FGSZ Zrt., which operates the country’s gas transmission network, said by phone.

    Ukraine Debt

    Gazprom on Jan. 1 increased its deliveries to Europe through Ukrainian territory by 20 million cubic meters a day. It accused Ukraine yesterday of siphoning off that amount and blocking access to the transit facilities by independent experts. Ukrainian state energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy said it is using the Russian gas to keep the pipeline network operational.

    Kupriyanov said yesterday that Ukraine would still owe Russia $614 million after paying $1.5 billion out of debts of $2.1 billion for gas received in November and December plus fines.

    Naftogaz doesn’t recognize any debt on Russian gas and has “paid for everything,” Valentyn Zemlyanskyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian utility, said by phone in Kiev. Zemlyanskyi said any penalties must be discussed in court.

    The threat to European energy supplies is less severe than during the 2006 dispute, because liquefied natural gas shipments have diversified supplies and utilities say they have sufficient inventories. Ukraine says it has gas in storage equivalent to about 35 percent of annual consumption.

    ‘Holding Pattern’

    “Talks are in a holding pattern, as there are no looming deadlines,” Alfa Bank Chief Strategist Ron Smith said by telephone from London yesterday. “Ukraine has gas in storage, reportedly, and gas is flowing into Europe.”

    Naftogaz Chief Executive Officer Oleh Dubina said Ukraine offered on Dec. 31 to pay Russia $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, compared with the 2008 rate of $179.50.

    Russia said its $250 offer already marked a concession to Ukraine, pointing out that Gazprom will pay an average of $340 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from three Central Asian nations in the first quarter.

    Naftogaz on Dec. 31 also asked for a transit rate for Russian gas of $1.80 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers (62 miles). That compares with the agreed 2008 rate of $1.70. Russia is refusing to renegotiate the transit tariff, saying its agreement runs until the end of 2010.

    U.K. February gas fell 3.95 pence, or 6.7 percent, to 54.75 pence a therm yesterday, according to data from broker Spectron Group Ltd. That’s equal to $7.95 a million British thermal units.

    Gas Dispute Has Effects Past Russia and Ukraine

    From: NYTimes
    The fallout from a dispute between Russia and Ukraine over the price of natural gas spread to other Eastern European nations on Saturday, as Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria reported dwindling pressure in their gas pipeline systems. The authorities in Bulgaria said they might have to restrict gas use.

    The shortages seemed contained, though, as of Saturday evening. Farther west, Germany, the largest consumer of Russian natural gas in the European Union, reported no troubles. Also, Italy, a country that lost pressure in its gas pipelines after a similar dispute in 2006, was unaffected two days after Russia halted gas shipments to Ukraine.

    European Union energy officials said they would call an emergency meeting for Monday.

    At issue in the dispute, which threatens to cause heating fuel shortages in Europe at the time it is most needed, is a system of gas trunk pipelines that is a legacy of the Soviet Union.

    The pipelines pass through Ukraine, serving that country and sending natural gas on toward customers in Western Europe. As Russia has again tried to force higher rates on Ukraine by halting supplies, exports to the rest of the Continent are invariably put at risk.

    The problem has bedeviled European energy supplies from Russia since the collapse of the Eastern bloc.

    On Saturday, the Polish national gas pipeline operator said that supplies of Russian gas had fallen by about 10 percent, but that customers were still unaffected because Poland was importing more gas via Belarus and drawing on reserves, the Interfax news agency reported.

    Romania reported that its imports of Russian gas were down by 30 percent. The chief executive of Bulgaria’s pipeline operator, Dimitar Gogov, said that pressures were dropping and that if the disruption persisted the utility would impose restrictions, Reuters reported. Bulgaria is supplied along a pipeline running through both Ukraine and Romania.

    As in the past, officials in Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for the western shortages. Bohdan I. Sokolovsky, the Ukrainian president’s envoy on energy security, said his country was not withdrawing gas from the flows intended for export. Instead, he said, Russia’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, was supplying less gas at the Ukrainian border for transshipment to its customers in the west.

    “That is how the Russian side arranged it,” Mr. Sokolovsky said in a telephone interview.

    Aleksandr I. Medvedev, a deputy chief executive of Gazprom, on Saturday reiterated the claim that Ukraine was diverting gas from the pipelines.

    Meanwhile, talks have stalled with the sides far apart over price. The Ukrainian authorities said they would pay no more than $235 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, while Gazprom wants $418 for the same volume.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Gangs exploiting Poles in UK

    From: The News
    A gang of Polish Romanies is operate in Sheffield, northern England, employing Poles in the construction and renovation service but not paying them for their work.

    According to the Dziennik daily, Romanies lure Poles to England by promising well-paid jobs. But once there, life is made hell when they are forced to work 10 to 12 hours everyday, without being paid for months. Their living conditions are said to be far from perfect. Polish police and Interpol are investigating the case.

    Polish vice-consul Szymon Bialek has confirmed the reports, adding that such gangs are operating not only in Sheffield, but also in Bradford, Leeds, Doncaster and Middlesbrough.

    Gas supply shortfall reported in Poland

    From: Polskie Radio
    Poland’s gas monopoly PGNiG and pipeline operator OGP Gaz-System report a six percent shortage of gas coming through from pipelines through Ukraine.

    The shortage, reported on Friday afternoon, follows Russia turning off the taps to Ukraine in a dispute over 2 billion dollars of unpaid bills to Gazprom.

    Warsaw says that the shortfall is being made up by alternative supply routes via Belarus.

    Hungary and Romania have also reported shortfalls of supply, with the latter reporting a 30 to 40 percent drop in gas coming from Gazprom. Poland reported a similar drop off in pressure in delivery pipes when Russia cut off gas to Ukraine in 2007.

    The Russian gas giant has accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas from supplies intended to Poland and the rest of Europe.

    The EU - which collectively relies on one fifth of its supply needs from the pipeline vua Ukraine - has called for a resolution of the conflict.

    Earlier Poland had reassured customers that it has several days of gas in reserves.

    56 dead on roads over Xmas

    From: The News
    Fifty six people died on Poland’s roads over the long weekend.

    From the 24 to 28 December, police recorded 56 deaths with 436 injured in 316 accidents. Most of the fatalities occurred in the first two days of the holiday period. On Sunday, nine deaths occurred and on Saturday, 14.

    Spokesperson for police headquarters, Mariusz Soko?owski, told the PAP agency that police detected 1152 drivers in charge of a vehicle while drunk.

  • Sport...

    Tatiana Sharakova wins Belarus' cycling track champion title

    From: BelTA
    The new Minsk-Arena is playing host to Belarus' Open Cycling Track Championships. The 24-year-old Tatiana Sharakova from Orsha took the champion's title in the 3km individual pursuit with the result of 3.46 minutes. Tatiana Sharakova was also unrivalled in the 10km scratch race.

    Olga Panarina from Minsk and Olga Streltsova of Moscow were victorious in the women's team event with the result of 34.76 seconds.

    The men's 1km and scratch finals will be held on December 29. The finals of six more disciplines will be staged out tomorrow, December 30. An official ceremony of inaugurating the cycling track of the multifunctional sports facility "Minsk-Arena" will be also held on December 30.

    This national cycling track championships is viewed as a preparation stage ahead of the European championships which will be held in Minsk on July 15-19, 2009.

    Viktar Hancharenka: “I expect BATE to play not less successfully next year”

    From: Charter '97
    Play of BATE football club of Barysau in the UEFA Champions League can be considered a main positive event of 2008.

    Barysau’s club managed to get to the Champions League group stage, having left such serious competitors as Belgium Anderlecht and Bulgarian Levski on the sidelines. BATE didn’t shame itself in matches against Real Madrid, Juventus Turin and Zenit St. Petersburg.

    The Charter’97 press center asked BATE’s couch Viktar Hancharenka to summarize the events of 2008.

    – Many remarkable events were noticed in Belarusian sport. These are Olympic gold medal (and not only gold ones), success in football – our rather good performance in UEFA Champions League and play of our youth teams. It was a very successful season for BATE taking into account it was a start for this composition of the team. It was the first time when we had achieved such a high level and we demonstrated a rather confident play. Of course, participation in the Champions League is a great breakthrough for us. We are happy to have gained this, but it makes us work even harder.

    Our performance evoked a wide response in Belarus, many people meet us in streets, wish success and thank. Our matches are widely covered in sporting world. I am happy if our play gave positive emotions to anyone. I expect BATE to play not less successfully next year. We’d like to make a lodgement on this level, – Viktar Hancharenka told in an interview to the Charter’97 press center.

  • Cultural scene...

    Фотовыставка Чарльза Клиффорда

    6 января 2009 года, в 16.00,
    в Национальном Музее истории и культуры Беларуси,
    состоится открытие

    фотовыставки Чарльза Клиффорда «Испанская мозаика 1852-1863 гг.»
    (самые ранние фотографии) из фонда Национального музея истории и культуры Беларуси,

    куратор Н. Савченко.

    Данная выставка открывает мероприятия Фестиваля фотографии и современных визуальных искусств «Год фотографии в Беларуси», и посвящается 170-летию фотографии.

    Выставка работает с 6 по 20 января 2009 г.

    Адрес: Минск, ул. К. Маркса, 12.
    тел. 227-43-22
    Работает с 11 до 18 часов,
    выходной – среда.

  • Endnote...

    Lukashenka: Next year will be difficult, but government will keep Belarus from collapse and chaos

    From: Navany
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in his New Year’s address to the nation that the year 2009 would be difficult, but the government would keep Belarus from a collapse and chaos.

    “We are entering the new year with big plans and confidence in our strength,” the Belarusian leader said in his address broadcast by all state television channels a few minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve 2008. “We have a huge creative and spiritual potential. We’ll be persistently moving to high standards of living. Yes, it will not be easy, but you should know that the authorities will prevent a collapse and chaos, and will not betray your trust. We’ll never belie our principle of caring for people. The main thing is not to forget that everything depends on us.”

    The year 2008 brought to Belarus “not only difficulties and tensions but also gave us achievements and hopes,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “It was interesting, eventful and generally successful.”

    The head of state thanked the citizens of Belarus for the trust that they “always give to the authorities, for their quiet and wisdom.” “We have a healthy nation, which is healthy not only physically but also spiritually,” he noted.

    “Belarus is a European state and we don’t need to prove this,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “We’ve never quarreled with anyone and never created problems to anyone. Our hearts are always open to those who come to us with good intentions.”

    “The expiring year further strengthened our confidence in the correctness of the chosen path,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “Those who tried to teach us not long ago, now speak about the Belarusian model of development with respect. Now that infections accumulated in the world economy have grown into an extremely deep crisis, it has turned out that we’ve done everything right all these years…. Do you remember that we were criticized for not letting the village die? But when a food crisis broke out, the countries, including Belarus, that were able to provide themselves with foodstuffs found themselves in an advantageous situation. We were strongly recommended to fully subordinate the economy to the rules of the global exchange business, but we decided not to rely on the mercy of market winds and weather.”

    The global crisis resulted from what Belarus “has always resolutely fought against,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “And at present one should not try to scare us by this unbidden guest. The next year will be difficult, but the Belarusians are used to overcoming difficulties and have experienced harder times.”