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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, February 15, 2009

Belarus stronger after crisis, First heart transplant, Slave trade, Students, Dollars and Rubles, Gas, Iran, Russia, Polish scandal and Kurt Kobain

  • From the Top...
  • #386

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus should be stronger after crisis

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    On 13 February, the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, confered state awards on prominent scientists of Belarus, industrialists, agricultural workers, medical workers, servicemen and athletes.
    After overcoming consequences of the global financial and economic crisis Belarus should reach even higher development levels, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said during the state award ceremony on February 13.

    “We are going through a complicated period. Along with all the achievements there are a lot of problems in the country, which are aggravated by the global crisis. But I am convinced that we will overcome these hardships thanks to our people. After the crisis we should be even stronger,” said the head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko remarked, for the state the example of people, who can think in modern, creative ways and achieve real progress, is very important. In his opinion, there are many such people in Belarus.

    Scientists constituted a large part of the awardees. The President believes at present the fact that science works for the country’s benefits, creating quality competitive intellectual products is especially important. “Because it is the foundation of the implementation of the innovation-based economic development policy and future progress,” underscored Alexander Lukashenko.

    Real economy workers such as blue-collar workers, specialists and executives of construction enterprises, which have commissioned multiple industrial, social and cultural objects, traditionally made up a large part of the awardees. Achievements of the best agribusiness companies of Belarus have been marked by awards as well. Conferring awards upon executives of state administration agencies, the head of state emphasised that the de-bureaucratisation and liberalisation policy Belarus pursues requires continuous improvement of their work, a careful attitude to people, solid work of everyone.

    According to the President, the enhancement of the defensive ability, rule of law and order are the main conditions of the country’s sustainable development. Alexander Lukashenko bestowed orders and medals on law enforcement officers, commended education, healthcare, culture and sports workers.

    Alexander Lukashenko: major breakthrough in Union State development

    In a related story, the implementation of the agreements that were reached at the Moscow session of the Supreme State Council will become a major breakthrough in Union State development. The statement was made by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Georgy Boos on February 12.

    The President underscored, for the first time in years the SSC session was very productive. In his opinion, it gave a boost for the future development in certain strategic areas of cooperation.

    “I am pleased with the openness of the Russian president, who says he will fulfil promises when they are made. This is a very good signal for our relations. And our opinions of the Supreme State Council session absolutely coincide,” said the President of Belarus.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes the SSC session was a landmark one because in these difficult times “we have given a signal to everyone that we will be together”. In his opinion, it is a good sign for Belarusian-Russian relations. At the Moscow meeting the agreements, which will give an essential boost to relations, were formalised. “It is important that Russian ministers have begun understanding what Belarus means for Russia,” he added.

    Once again the Belarusian head of state remarked that the development of Belarus’ relations with the West does not harm Russia. In his opinion, it is even profitable for the Russian Federation. “It is absolutely correct for the Kaliningrad oblast. We might be able to handle cargo transportation issues in a more beneficial way. In a calm, measured and pragmatic way we will start implementing ideas for building port facilities in the Kaliningrad oblast,” said the head of state. He added Belarus and the Kaliningrad oblast have a lot of potential areas of cooperation .

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasised that Belarus pursues an honest and consistent policy and takes loans against liabilities. “We don’t make problems for anyone, not for a single neighbour of ours. Nobody can make a claim against us in this regard. We will pursue an honest and consistent policy,” said the head of state

  • Other Belarusian News...

    First heart transplantation surgery performed in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The first heart transplantation surgery was performed in Belarus on the night of February 11/12, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Health Ministry.

    The surgery was performed by the leading heart surgeons and anesthesiologists of the National Cardiology Research Centre. A total of 20 specialists took part in the surgery.

    The 36 year old heart transplant patient suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. According to the doctors, the patient is feeling as expected after such a surgery.

    Presidential Congratulations

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko congratulated the staff of the National Cardiology Research Centre for performing the surgery, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “We are proud of the revolutionary progress in the Belarusian transplantology; every year our doctors introduce unique transplant surgeries of organs and tissues, giving people hope and joy. The heart transplant surgery that you performed is a real scientific and labour achievement, a significant breakthrough in the national health care system that demonstrates its cutting-edge level,” the felicitation message says.

    The head of state pointed out that this surgery was made possible due to the distinguished professionalism of Belarusian doctors, many years of work to create an advanced high-tech health care system and establishment of specialized research centres equipped with cutting-edge facilities.

    “May your team proceed with this great undertaking, achieve success in the development of promising areas of heart surgery and transplantology for the sake of preserving the supreme treasure - a human life,” the President wished the staff of the centre.

    UN slave trade report testifies to changes in international cooperation

    From: BelTA
    The UN first global report on human trafficking was solemnly presented at the UN HQ in New York. In recognition of Belarus’ special merits in stepping up and improving the coordination of efforts of the global community in the fight against slave trade Foreign Policy Aide to the President of Belarus Valentin Rybakov has been invited to participate in the ceremony, BelTA learnt from the permanent representation of Belarus in the UN.

    In his speech during the UN report presentation Valentin Rybakov remarked that the UN report on slave trade is a vivid testimony of the changes in the international cooperation against this social evil. Belarus has been trying to make the changes come true since 2005 when the President of Belarus called upon the global community to step up and improve coordination of global efforts in this area at the UN summit.

    Speaking about components of the success of the multilateral efforts in the fight against slave trade on the global scale, Valentin Rybakov mentioned dedicated and principled leaders, wide partnership of national governments, international institutions, NGOs, mass media and private sector, effective organisational basis for cooperation in the shape of the UN global plan of actions against slave trade.

    The report was prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and is the first large-scale UN-sponsored research of the kind.

    Supervised by UN Deputy Secretary General, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa, the ceremony gathered over 500 representatives of UN member-states, international organisations, civil society, business circles and mass media.

    During the ceremony prominent American actress and Oscar winner Mira Sorvino was appointed UN ambassador of goodwill for the fight against human trafficking.

    Belarus urges UN to develop global mechanism to provide access to vitally important technologies

    During a session of the UN Commission for Social Development, which discussed global crises and their impact on social development, a Belarusian delegation urged the United Nations to develop an efficient global mechanism to provide access to vitally important technologies to produce energy, foodstuffs and medicines, BelTA learnt from the Permanent Representative Office of the Republic of Belarus in the UN.

    It concerns the technologies which are important for the survival of the humanity or millions of people, the technologies which are the public domain but not a commercial product. The creation of such mechanism will help the world to improve social protection of people during global crises.

    The Belarusian delegation proposed to take the measures to stimulate competitiveness and to prevent abuses of exclusive rights for the use of the technologies for production of vitally important medicines, foodstuffs and energy, with just compensation to be paid to the owners of those technologies.

    Belarusian diplomats drew attention of the UN member states that WTO TRIPS Agreement makes provision for limited exceptions to patent rights that allows using, in some instances, patented technologies and inventions without the permission of a patent owner. The work to provide access to vitally important technologies is conducted along the same lines in the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Industrial Development Organization, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international organisations.

    Belarus students to study in China, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, Slovakia

    From: BelTA
    The best Belarusian students will go to China, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, and Slovakia under student exchange programmes, BelTA has learnt from the international relations department of the Education Ministry of Belarus.

    Students from 53 institutions of higher education of Belarus as well as undergraduates can participate in the contest to get a right to study under such programmes, they said in the department. Preferences will be given to students majoring in technical science, philology, natural science, technology.

    All the students can submit an application. There is a choice in terms of the duration of a course: from a year to the full-time course. All the documents should be filed to the international links departments of the universities till March 1, 2009.

    Such exchange programmes are held every year, however this year China offered a greater number of grants. Twenty students can go to China this year, five to Syria, three to Kyrgyzstan, three to Vietnam and three to Slovakia.

    Minsk students to participate in Odyssey of Mind international programme

    The 4th international contest Odyssey of the Mind will be held in the Minsk State Palace of Children and Youth on February 14-15, BelTA has learnt.

    Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Kids apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

    Taking part in the contest will be 30 teams from Minsk, 26 teams from other regions of Belarus and four teams from Russia.

    The Odyssey of the Mind program was co-founded by Dr. Theodore Gourley and Dr. C. Samuel Micklus in 1978 at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey. At present, more than twenty countries take part in the programme.

    The Belarusian team took part in the Odyssey of the Mind contest in Potsdam in 2001 for the first time. At that time, Belarus was represented by students of Brest grammar school No2. The Brest team also participated in the world finals of the Odyssey of the Mind in Washington in 2005. In Minsk, the contest was held in 2006. In 2008, during the Odyssey of the Minsk international contest in Berlin, Belarus was represented by two teams which won the bronze.

  • Economics...

    US dollar, euro gain against Belarusian ruble on February 13

    From: BelTA
    The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar went up by Br5 to reach Br2,805 per $1 during the trading session at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange on February 13, BelTA has learnt.

    Meanwhile, the exchange rate of the euro grew by Br17 to make up Br3,621 per ?1, the Russian ruble — Br0.78 up to Br81.17.

    Thus, since early 2009 when the one-time devaluation was enforced, the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar set by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus for February 14 has decreased by 5.8% while the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the euro grew by 2.2%, against the Russian ruble — 10%.

    Since the beginning of the year the Belarusian ruble has grown stronger against the basket of currencies by 2.3% and stands at Br937.7 as from February 14. The change is within the 5% band of fluctuations allowed in 2009.

    BelTA reported earlier, in 2009 the National Bank pegged the Belarusian ruble to the basket of three currencies – the US dollar, euro and Russian ruble. On January 2 the exchange rate of the national currency against the currency basket was set at Br960 after a 20% single-step devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.

    Earlier NBRB Chairman of the Board Piotr Prokopovich was quoted as saying that at the end of Q1 2009 the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the basket of foreign currencies will be as high as it was at the beginning of the year — Br960.

    In 2008, foreign investment in Belarus up 20.4%

    In 2008, Belarus’ real production sector (except banks) received $6.5 billion of foreign investments, up 20.5% over 2007, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee.

    The manufacturing industry received 42.9% of the total investment. The share of investment in general commercial activities made up 29.8%, trade and public catering 8.5%.

    Major investors were economic entities of Russia (33.2% of foreign investment), Switzerland (18.8%), Great Britain (10.9%), Cyprus (8.5%).

    The biggest investment recipients were Minsk (42.7%), Minsk oblast (21%), Gomel oblast (15.2%) and Vitebsk oblast (14.5%).

    Foreign direct investments (FDI) accounted for 34.9% of the aggregate foreign investment. FDI increased 1.7 times over 2007 to make up $2.279 billion. The main forms of attracting them were credits and loans from direct investors (67% of the total direct investment).

    Other foreign investments amounted to $4.4 billion, up 3.4% over 2007. They accounted for 65% of the total foreign investment. The main forms of attracting other foreign investment were credits and loans.

    One of the forms of foreign financing is portfolio investment, which made up only $1.7 million last year, down 24.1% from 2007.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus Wants Obama to Ditch ‘Dictator’ Tag, Spur Foreign Trade

    From: Bloomburg
    Belarus wants to reach out to President Barack Obama in a bid to shake off the “last dictatorship” label imposed by the Bush administration as it seeks to stimulate foreign investment and trade.

    “We are very much open to a much better relationship with the U.S.,” Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said in an interview in Berlin today, welcoming the “new tone” in foreign relations outlined by Vice President Joe Biden in a Feb. 7 speech in Munich. “We’re prepared to engage with the new administration.”

    Belarus “lives or dies by foreign trade” because it exports 65 percent of its gross national product, Martynov said, speaking in English, adding that the global economic crisis is hurting its trading partners’ ability to buy Belarusian goods.

    Belarus, a former part of the Soviet Union that borders Russia and three European Union states, has given signals that it wants to open up after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko was dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” in 2005 by then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. All the country’s elections since 1996 have been criticized by international observers, and in May 2008 the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of three subsidiaries of a state-run Belarusian oil company.

    Since then, the Belarusian authorities have released the last three political prisoners, prompting the EU to offer to ease sanctions on Belarus if it adheres to international electoral standards. Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich said in an interview in September that “the people around Lukashenko are changing,” adding to signs of a thaw in the country.

    ‘Way Off’

    The dictatorship tag “is way off and unsubstantiated,” said Martynov, who was in Berlin to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- the first talks at such a level in 14 years, according to the German Foreign Ministry. The sanctions imposed on Belarusian companies are “unfounded and unjust” and will have to be addressed in talks with U.S. administration officials.

    “I welcome the reform steps that Belarus has taken in the past weeks and months,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “The priority now is to convert these steps into a sustainable reform process.”

    Martynov said Belarus, which has a population of 10 million, is opening up its economy to foreign investors and capital from Europe and the U.S. Most of Belarus’s exports are to Europe and Russia, with 45 percent going to the EU and 35 percent to Russia, he said.

    “Until recently we were not keen to allow too much foreign investment and capital into our economy because we thought we were not ready,” he said. Now, Belarus is “confident” and is “opening up the economy for investors.”

    Tractor Output

    “We produce 6 percent of the world output of tractors,” Martynov said. “We’re a manufacturing economy.”

    Selling off of state companies is seen in a more positive light because their value has increased over the past 10 years during which Belarus has had annual economic growth of between 6 percent and 10 percent, he said.

    The devaluation of the Belarusian ruble by 20 percent last month was a one-off move in part to help boost exports, he said.

    “We do not have particular plans for further abrupt devaluations of the currency,” Martynov said.

    He said there were also no plans to replace the Belarusian ruble with the Russian ruble in the near future. “It might come at a later stage.” Belarus and Russia set up a union of both countries during the late 1990s.

    Belarus has so far spent half of a $2 billion loan from Russia made last November and the rest will be disbursed this month, Martynov said. He said his government was seeking another $3 billion from Russia to bolster Belarus exports.

    “Russian customers are already experiencing difficulties in paying us for our goods,” he said.

    Air Defense

    On relations with Russia, Martynov said that an accord signed Feb. 3 creating a joint Russian-Belarus air defense system wasn’t aimed at U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, which borders Belarus to the west.

    “I believe it’s kind of been blown out of proportion,” said Martynov. “We have had a joint air defense system for 10 years with Russia and the agreement doesn’t add anything military to air defense.”

    Although Belarus has close ties with the Russia government, President Lukashenko, 54, didn’t follow Russia in recognizing the independence of breakaway Georgian regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia after the Russian-Georgian war last August.

    “We continue to consider the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia but no decisions have been taken,” Martynov said.

    Martynov said that while Belarus wants expanded relations with the EU, his country has no plans to seek membership in the 27-nation bloc. “We understand we are not ready for that,” he said.

    Belarus lobbies for new gas pipeline

    From: UPI
    The foreign minister of Belarus Wednesday in Berlin lobbied for a new pipeline from Russia to Europe that is cheap and quick to build.

    Russia and Europe should seriously consider building a second string to the existing Yamal-Europe pipeline, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said Wednesday in Berlin.

    Because the infrastructure for such a second string is already there, the new pipeline, with an annual capacity of roughly 23 billion cubic meters per year, could be built within "18 to 24 months" for a cost of "$1.5 billion to $2 billion only," Martynov said.

    "Everything is ready to go," said the foreign minister in a speech to foreign policy experts and journalists Wednesday evening in Berlin's Hotel Adlon.

    The so-called Yamal-Europe 2 would connect Western Siberia's vast gas fields with customers in Europe, transiting through Belarus and Poland. Ukraine, which recently was entangled in a gas row with Russia that led to import stoppages in Europe, would be omitted.

    Russia recently said it first would focus on two other Europe-bound pipeline projects -- North Stream and South Stream -- before considering Yamal-Europe 2.

    Belarus, Iran implementing joint projects worth $1.5b

    From: Tehran Times
    Belarus and Iran are currently implementing joint projects to the tune of $1.5 billion, Industry Minister of Belarus Anatoly Rusetsky said during a session of the joint Belarusian-Iranian commission for economic cooperation on February 12.

    “Today the total cost of the projects makes up $1.5 billion. I am speaking about the projects which are currently underway,” Anatoly Rusetsky said.

    According to the minister, in 2008 the two countries managed to boost the trade to almost $100 million. “Yet, this is far below the trade volume set forth by the presidents of the two countries,” he said. The minister is confident that Belarus-Iran trade can be increased to $1 billion. The goal can be met within several years.

    Anatoly Rusetsky noted that an important indicator of bilateral cooperation is the growth of Iranian investment in Belarus. Iran’s Trade Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi said that the huge potential of Belarus-Iran cooperation lies in oil and gas industries, manufacturing industry, healthcare, sci-tech services. “We need to take all efforts to reach the trade of $1 billion. We hope that our talks will promote further development of trade and economic relations between the countries,” he said.

    Opposition youths across Belarus take to streets to greet people on St. Valentine’s Day

    From: Navany
    Young opposition activists across Belarus took to the streets on February 14 to mark St. Valentine’s Day.

    A dozen members of the Belarusian Popular Front’s youth wing gathered near a subway in Minsk to distribute among passers-by carnations tied with white-red-white bands and the organization’s postcards.

    “We’ve come here today to greet Minsk residents on the Day of Love, make them smile and give postcards and flowers,” a participant told BelaPAN.

    A hundred of the postcards were distributed within 10 minutes.

    Police vans with policemen inside were not far from the venue, but no arrests were made.

    In Homyel, young opposition activists also distributed specially designed small calendars and postcards. Wearing angels fancy dresses with paper hearts and white-red-white ribbons fixed to the costumes, the youths marched through the center of the city. Police did not interfere.

    In Brest, members of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Hramada” distributed more than 300 paper hearts and balloons. “In response, the Brest people were saying the warmest words and even read love poetry,” Ihar Maslowski, head of the opposition party’s regional organization, told BelaPAN. “In short, they reciprocated.”

  • From the Opposition...

    Police forcefully evict people from the private houses standing on the way of subway line

    From: Viasna
    On 12 February 12 the police and court marshals forcefully evicted Minsk dweller Vasil Khadzkou from his private house in Dziarzhynski Street, where a metro line is being constructed.

    Vasil Khadzkou refused to let the public officers in, and then the police pushed the man into a police car forcefully and took him to Maskouski district court. He will be tried for contumacy. The evicted man may face administrative arrest for contumacy, RFE/RL reports.

    But Vasil Khadzkou told officers of court he didn’t refuse to obey the court, but asked the court to give explanations for eviction.

    ‘What eviction? Where to? Out in the street? The law is the law. According to the law, the apartment must be transferred into ownership, so do it,’ he clamors.

    As compensation, Maskouski district executive committee gave a two-room apartment for three persons, Khadzkou, his ex-wife, and his son. Vasil Khadzkou went to law to appeal against this decision, because he divorces long ago, but lost the suit. Khadzkou asked the court to explain him why he would own an apartment where another family lives and has the same rights. The court didn’t give any explanations and appointed 12 February for enforced eviction.

    The offices of court decided not to burst into the house, defended by Vasil Khadzkou, and called to the police for help. Loaders of ‘Direction of Minsk Metro Construction’ broke the doors with crowbars and took things out of the former owner under the supervision of the officers of court.

    Vasil Khadzkou says he is going to appeal against the eviction. The owner of the house reminded about his meeting with an official of the Maskouski district executive committee.

    ‘The official says the divorce was fictitious, so I needn’t an apartment. In violation of the law, it was decided by them, not by the court,’ he noted.

    Vasil Khadzkou and more than a hundred of Minsk dwellers, sent complaints to the administration of Alexander Lukashenka. Owners of the houses protest against eviction due to metro construction and call on the authorities to study out possible machinations of officials with allocated apartments.

    The residents of other private houses which are to be pulled down lawlessly, protest against violation of their rights.

    A huge streamer appeared at the building #49 in Umanskaya Street. It was written there: ‘Mister President! By demolishing this house, rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus are violated.’

    Bear in mind that on 30 January 2009 the court of Maskouski district of Minsk cancelled property rights of an owner for the individual two-storey building (380 square meters of total area). The Vaskabovichy family lives in the house. They are 9, three of them are infants. The Vaskabovichys have been denied to choose the way of compensation for demolished house. All the family members have been resettled to two social apartments in the Loshytsa suburb. The total area of their new dwellings is half as much as the previous one.

    Anti-nuclear pickets are banned again

    The authorities still don’t authorize actions of protest against the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Astravets district. The executive committees of Vileika and Maladzechna did not grant the petitions for authorization of anti-nuclear pickets in these towns.

    The refusals are not based on any laws and the reasons for them are quite doubtful. In Vileika the petition was rejected as ‘The Presidential Order for construction of a nuclear power plant in Astravets has not been signed yet’, whereas Maladzechna activists again received a runaround that ‘the provisions of part 1 of Article 1 and Article 5 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus On mass actions in the Republic of Belarus haven’t been implemented’ by them.

    Crazy growth of public utility rates in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    Belarusians were shocked seeing in February payment receipts for public utilities. In just a month after the year began, prices for housing and public utility rates have abruptly grown by 20%.

    In December 2008 Alyaksandr Lukashenka traditionally gave a task to the government to limit growth of public utility rates by a maximum of $5. However, realizing that such tasks are impossible to be fulfilled (by the way, they were not fulfilled in previous years as well, public utilities went up much faster), officials set a new maximum. Over 2009 public utility rates cannot grow by more than $9.1. But the economic crisis hasn’t allowed the prices to stay within these limits even in the first months of the new year.

    The average charges for public utilities for one –room flat where two persons are registered, was 80,000 Br in December 2008. But the payment receipts received in the beginning of this month, there was a different sum, more than 100,000 Br.

    In last December an owner of two-room flat paid 90-100,000 Br for public utilities, and now the payment is 35-40,000 Br higher.

    The cost of public utilities for three-room flats has grown as well. In December 2008 one had to pay about 160,000 Br for a three-room flat in a block of flats of bearing-wall construction without utility meters. And in December the public utility charges grew up to 195,000 Br.

    It means that over one month the increase of utility rates was $10-12 instead of $9.1 increase over a year! It means that in January the Housing and Utilities Ministry topped target in housing and utilities sector’s rates for the whole 2009 year.

    Together with the sharp devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, since the beginning of the year salaries of Belarusians dropped by 25.5% as well. Mass dismissals started at state-run enterprises. Bonuses have been cancelled for state officials. Many businessmen had to curtail their business because of unprofitability.

    However, the cost of living is not going to go down. Prices for goods have grown by 50-60%. In some regions of the country there were cases on record when food products got up by 70% at once. In January 20089 the advance of consumer costs in Belarus was record-breaking in terms of the last six years. Economists believe that it is just the beginning of advance of price for all goods and services.

    If in the first months of the year prices are growing like that, beating all “plans” and “forecasts” of state officials, what is next?..

  • Around the region...

    Main stage of Russian rouble devaluation is over -- Kudrin

    From: Itar Tass
    The main stage of rouble devaluation is over, Russian Vice-Premier and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in a televised interview on the Rossiya television channel.

    "It is already over. The main stage is over," the vice-premier said.

    Russia has all the chances to strengthen the rouble positions as reserve currency within five years. "We have all the chances to strengthen our positions in this direction for a mid-term period, that is during five years," Kudrin said, noting that a strict macro-economic policy, a strict monetary and loan policy and a fiscal or budget policy must be observed for it.

    Despite the rouble devaluation by more than 33 percent as compared to mid-2008, the Russian currency remains attractive for the use as reserve currency for the countries that are Russia's main trade partners, for example Belarus, the minister believes.

    Lavrov welcomes U.S. signals on missile shield

    From: Reuters
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed U.S. signals that it would review plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, but said the issue was not linked to Iran's nuclear programme, media reported on Saturday.

    The United States on Friday signalled a willingness to slow plans for a missile defence shield in Europe if Russia agreed to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons [ID:nN13541668].

    In an interview with the Russian 'TV-center' channel, to be broadcast on Saturday but recorded earlier in the week, Lavrov denied any link between Iran and the missile shield.

    "As for the missile shield, we have already repeatedly said publicly ... that in our expert, professional opinion, according to our deepest conviction, it has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear programme," Lavrov said, according to a transcript published by Itar-Tass news agency.

    "It is linked to strategic stability ... and directly affects the strategic arsenal of the Russian Federation."

    However, Lavrov stressed in the interview, and in one with German news magazine Der Spiegel, that Russia was open to dialogue with the United States.

    He said Russia proposed cooperating with the United States and Europe on a missile shield a year and a half ago.

    "It's not too late. We could sit down at the negotiating table and evaluate the situation," Lavrov is quoted as saying in the Der Spiegel interview to be published on Monday, excerpts of which were released on Saturday.

    Russia and the United States agree that world security would be threatened if Iran acquired nuclear weapons but they disagree over whether Tehran is actively pursuing a weapons programme. Iran says its nuclear programme is for power generation only.


    Lavrov said Russia wanted to work more closely with the West due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and welcomed signals from President Barack Obama's administration on Iran.

    "We are delighted that Barack Obama and his team is speaking about the necessity to take a fresh look at the situation. They are saying America would look for possibilities to speak directly with Iran. That is what Russia has been pushing for for the last four years," he said.

    Plans for the missile defence shield have contributed to a deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties, but the Obama administration has said it wants to press the 'reset button' and build good relations with Moscow.

    Undersecretary of State William Burns held talks in Moscow in which he signalled the United States was ready to look at remodelling its missile defence plans to include Moscow.

    Russia viewed the plan to site missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security in its traditional backyard.

    U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a security conference in Germany last week the United States would press ahead with the shield, but only if it was proven to work and cost-effective.

    The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the missile shield in exchange for Russian help supplying the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. (Additional reporting by Toni Vorobyova in Moscow; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

    Ukraine: Train collides with bus killing at least 6

    From: CNN
    Six people were killed and at least 14 were injured Saturday when a train crashed into a passenger bus in Ukraine, officials said.

    The crash occurred about 10 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET) near Proshovo village, about 25 km (16 miles) from Ternopil in central Ukraine, Sergii Skvyrskyi, spokesman for the Ukrainian Duty Service, told CNN.

    A passenger bus with 25 people on board attempted to cross an unguarded railway crossing and was struck by the train, he said.

    Five people died at the scene scene, and a sixth died later at a hospital, he said. Fourteen people were hospitalized.

    Ukraine's Interior Ministry is investigating the incident.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Jagiellonia Bialystok relegated!

    From: Polish SOCA!
    Polish Ekstraklasa side Jagiellonia Bialystok has been relegated as the result of the investigation into the match fixing scandal in Polish football.

    Dropping down
    Members of the Polish FA discipline committee have ruled that Jagiellonia is guilty of committing five acts of corruption in the years 2004-2005. As a result, Jagiellonia is to be relegated from the Polish top flight from the start of the next season. If Jagiellonia finishes at the end of the season above the drop zone they will be relegated to the Orange Liga. However, if 'Jaga' will end the season in the relegation zone they will find them selves next season in the Polish Second League.

    More to come?
    News of the relegation have been a shock for both players and fans throughout the country, few were expecting this kind of news at this point. It is difficult to say if there is more to come, but teams like Cracovia, PGE GKS Belchatow and KKS Lech Poznan are said to be also involved. It is yet not known what will be the next decision of the Polish FA discipline committee.

    Poles think Jews have too much power, claims survey

    From: The News
    Fifty five percent of Poles think that Jews have too much power in international financial markets, according to a new survey by the Anti Defamation League.

    The annual survey (pdf) looked at attitudes towards Jewish people in seven countries - Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Sixty three percent of those surveyed in Poland responded that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country,” a rise of four percent from a similar report taken in 2007. Fifty five percent think that "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust," a fall of three percent 12 months ago.

    Overall, the findings across Europe were similar to those in 2007, with many Europeans continuing to believe in some of the “most pernicious anti-Semitic stereotypes,” says ADL.

    "This poll confirms that anti-Semitism remains alive and well in the minds of many Europeans," claims Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.

    The poll was taken from a sample of 3,500, with just 500 from each country.

    Rising Polish suicides in UK

    From: Polskie Radio
    According to Poland’s Deputy Consul in Manchester, suicides committed in north England and Wales constitute one third of Polish deaths in Great Britain.

    The rate is even higher in southern England, where industry is less developed and there are fewer job opportunities for unskilled or semi-skilled Poles.

    The case of 22-year-old Pawal Lipinski, who killed himself last year in Bradford, northern England, is one of a growing trend of suicides, says the organization.

    Psychologists say loneliness, lack of money and shame of not getting a proper job or not making enough money are to blame for an increasing amount of Poles feeling trapped in the UK with no prospects.

    In the UK, men born between 1978 and 1984 are most likely to take their own lives.

  • Sport...

    Cycling: Hutarovich wins Tour of Med 5th stage

    From: Chanel News
    Belarussian Yauheni Hutarovich claimed his second sprint victory of the week at the Tour of the Mediterranean here Saturday.

    The Francaise des Jeux team rider held off South African Robert Hunter of Barloworld, the winner of Friday's fourth stage, with Italian Guiseppe Palombo finishing third.

    Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez, of Caisse d'Epargne, held on to the overall leader's yellow jersey after the 167km stage between Brignoles and Marseille.

    Sanchez, like Hunter a Tour de France stage winner, is tipped to hold on to his lead during Sunday's final stage over 165km from Nice to Toulon and which finishes on the summit of Mont Faron.

  • Cultural scene...

    Фестиваль-трибьют NIRVANA

    20 февраля в клубе Реактор

    пройдёт ежегодный фестиваль-трибьют NIRVANA
    посвящённый дню рождения Курта Кобейна.

    Участвуют группы
    Zaniapad, Мутнае Вока, Голая Манашка, Determined, In Joy, LikBez, Психоз.

    Начало 17.30.
    Билеты от 18 000 до 25 000.
    Справки по тел. 6490888

    День рождения Курта Кобейна, легендарного музыканта, лидера, основателя и идейного вдохновителя группы NIRVANA, снова станет поводом для проведения трибьютов по всему миру. В стороне не осталась и наша дорогая столица. Минский клуб Реактор в этом году продолжит старую добрую традицию, и … соберет в своих стенах преданных поклонников NIRVANA, ценителей жанра grunge, и просто хороших людей, которых объединяет любовь к Курту - человеку, ставшему иконой не только своего поколения, но и многих последующих. Человеку, открывшему для десятков тысяч людей новое направление в музыке, искусстве в целом, в образе жизни и мировосприятии. Человеку, сумевшему навсегда остаться в сердцах огромной армии поклонников по всему миру благодаря безудержному протесту против статичности, человеческого несовершенства и нежелания меняться. Он умер, чтобы освободить место для нас. Он надеялся, что в крике, искренне рвущемся из глубин его души, мы услышим, как кричит Планета, как Совесть твердит нам о наших пороках и Души тихонько плачут в молитвах за нас…

    Как много может сделать маленький человек из глубинки, из захолустного, серого городка, если в сердце горит огонек. Таким был Курт Кобейн. Его любят и ненавидят, но не замечать его огромного вклада в мировую историю рок-музыки нельзя. С 80-х и до скончания веков слово <> будет ассоциироваться с именем именно этого человека.

    Организаторы трибьюта подошли к делу ответственно и внимательно. Был проведен основательный отбор среди коллективов, подавших заявки на участие. Только самые достойные белорусские команды будут отжигать на сцене Реактора в день рождения Курта!

    Всех гостей мероприятия порадует сюрприз - уникальный видео-материал из жизни группы NIRVANA, который собирался на протяжении последних лет коллекционерами со всего мира. Большую его часть невозможно найти даже во всемирной паутине, так как многое только-только появилось в коллекциях мирового сообщества поклонников Нирваны (более подробно об этом читай на сайте Подготовлен и интереснейший аудиоматериал, который можно будет услышать в перерывах между выступлениями приглашенных команд. И конечно не обойдется без конкурсов с очень достойными призами, заказанными через крупнейшие интернет-магазины и аукционы.

  • Endnote...

    Failure to save East Europe will lead to worldwide meltdown:
    The unfolding debt drama in Russia, Ukraine, and the EU states of Eastern Europe has reached acute danger point.

    From: Telegraph.
    If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Gotterdammerung.

    Austria's finance minister Josef Proll made frantic efforts last week to put together a Euro150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent Euro230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP.

    "A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

    The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East.

    Mr Proll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbruck. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that.

    Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay – or roll over – $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut.

    Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the rouble.

    "This is the largest run on a currency in history," said Mr Jen.

    In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly – by lenders and borrowers – it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not.

    Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets.

    They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).

    Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia.

    Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus.

    Under a "Taylor Rule" analysis, the European Central Bank already needs to cut rates to zero and then purchase bonds and Pfandbriefe on a huge scale. It is constrained by geopolitics – a German-Dutch veto – and the Maastricht Treaty.

    But I digress. It is East Europe that is blowing up right now. Erik Berglof, EBRD's chief economist, told me the region may need ?400bn in help to cover loans and prop up the credit system.

    Europe's governments are making matters worse. Some are pressuring their banks to pull back, undercutting subsidiaries in East Europe. Athens has ordered Greek banks to pull out of the Balkans.

    The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (?155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue SpeWidth="" height="" cial Drawing Rights.

    Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country – facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices – is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia's central bank governor has declared his economy "clinically dead" after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament.

    "This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s," said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.

    "There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don't have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these one countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU."

    Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4pc in the fourth quarter.

    If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9pc before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt.

    The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU "union bonds" should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy's public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc – big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism.

    So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer.

    If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?