News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dutch remain opposed to Lukashenko, Religious tolerance, Heart transplant, Innovation technology, Opposition, Russia, Petr Elfimov and Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #398

    State appreciates role of church in preserving religious tolerance in society

    From: BelTA
    The state appreciates the role of the Belarusian Orthodox Church in maintaining religious tolerance, peace and accord between people of various faiths, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with members of the Synod of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, the high authority and many-sided constructive activity of the Belarusian Orthodox Church have always served as an important factor in preserving the stability on the Belarusian land.

    The President of Belarus called last year’s meeting in Minsk with Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexi II a momentous event in the development of state-church relations. “We will always remember him as a good and most decent friend and mentor, whose wisdom and authority were a reliable spiritual support for us,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed the confidence that good relations with the Russian Orthodox Church will become even stronger during the service of the recently elected Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill. There are all prerequisites for that, the President believes.

    The head of state drew attention to the great contribution of the Belarusian Orthodox Church to strengthening the moral values, reviving the spirituality, preserving historical traditions of the people. The Church does not fence itself off today’s problems. It always raises important social issues.

    Last year a range of important problems was solved jointly with the Belarusian Orthodox Church. For example a set of measures was taken to prevent pseudo-religious and occult ideas and teachings. On the initiative of the church and with effective assistance of the state Orthodox sacred places are brought back to life, new temples are constructed. The new temple-monument in honour of All Saints will become the national landmark and memorial, the President believes. In this connection, the head of state warned against incomplete constructions in the country.

    Speaking about today’s difficult economic conditions, Alexander Lukashenko said that the state and church have the same positions on the crisis. Alexander Lukashenko believes that the crisis is rooted in the consciousness, moral standards of the whole world rather than in economy and finance. “This is a psychological, moral crisis rather than economic and financial one,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Belarusian Orthodox Church calls for effective legal control over Internet

    Metropolitan Filaret believes that Belarus could use experience of other countries, in particular, China where the responsibility of Internet access providers is stipulated by legislation.

    In his words, the Internet is an open door into the world. It has powerful influence on people’s minds. Children and the underage are the most vulnerable categories. “The main threat is that any kind of immoral information has become accessible for children and the underage, whose minds are insufficiently grown and unstable,” stressed Metropolitan Filaret. “The virtual chaos is most devastating for them”. He expressed hope that the government will not neglect the problem, which is of great public significance.

    Belarus President: state and church should step up cooperation to promote family values

    Alexander Lukashenko is deeply convinced that the creative potential of the church has not been fulfilled to the full extent. The President would like to see a greater community involvement of the church to help socially unprotected groups of people, including those who would like to quit harmful habits or delinquents.

    This year was declared the Year of Native Land, so the President thinks that the church can play a significant role here. “Its main purpose is to emphasize the inextricable links with our homeland, with the colossal riches created by our ancestors which we are now responsible for. The great experience accumulated by the Orthodox Church during many centuries is of great value for the present day generation. This experience inspires and encourages people," Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The head of state emphasized that during the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders, the social programmes of the Belarusian exarchate aimed to revive the traditions of charity and humanity are becoming increasingly topical.

    Belarus President okays issuing state-recognized certificates to theology scholars

    “I don’t quite understand why we can resolve the issue by equalling these certificates,” said the head of state. “These days in secular education we have so many phoney candidates, many of whom mostly like fail to meet the level of theologists, who defend theses”. Alexander Lukashenko believes the Supreme Personnel Review Board should work out a system to assess theology theses. “If the Supreme Personnel Review Board lacks the necessary specialists to assess these theses, let’s invite experts, maybe from Russia and other countries,” remarked the President.

    Commissioner for Religions and Nationalities Leonid Gulyako told the head of state that the Belarusian Labour Ministry had addressed the problem of supplemental payment for teachers with a theology degree. “At present the problem is that the Education Ministry does not issue state-recognized certificates to Candidates and Doctors of Theology saying that the procedure of awarding academic titles and ranks in spiritual and secular universities are different,” he said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Dialogue between Belarus and European Union in focus of Budapest
    ministerial consultations

    From: BelTA
    Budapest, Hungary
    The intensification of the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union was discussed during a regular round of the ministerial consultations between Belarus and Hungary, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    During the consultations, the Belarusian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Voronetsky who paid a visit to Budapest on March 24-26. During his meeting with State Secretary of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry Gabor Szentivanyi, the sides paid special attention to the intensification of the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union. The sides shared opinion concerning the Eastern Partnership Programme. Valery Voronetsky and Gabor Szentivanyi also discussed the cooperation of Belarus and the Visegrad Group.

    During the visit to Budapest, Valery Voronetsky also met with Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz. The sides discussed the development of the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union. Valery Voronetsky and Kinga Goncz noted a considerable potential of the trade, economic and investment cooperation between Belarus and Hungary.

    Valery Voronetsky also met with Abel Garamhegyi, State Secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of National Development and Economy.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain to visit Belarus March 29-30

    Minister of Foreign Affair and Cooperation of Spain Miguel Moratinos will be in Belarus on a visit on March 29-30, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    Miguel Moratinos is set to meet with Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov. The sides will discuss the whole range of issues of bilateral cooperation including political, economic and humanitarian problems. As Spain is currently holding the chairmanship in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the sides will consider the cooperation of Belarus with this organisation.

    In 2008, trade turnover between Belarus and Spain amounted to $219 million, up 36.4% over 2007. Exports were down 7.9% to $22.2 million. Imports from Spain were up 44.4% to $196.6 million.

    Last year Belarus attracted $106,400 of Spanish investments.

    Vladimir Makei, German MPs discuss Belarus’ participation in Eastern Partnership

    Head of Presidential Administration Vladimir Makei met with a delegation of Bundestag deputies (the German Parliament) led by Deputy Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group Andreas Schockenhoff on March 25, BelTA learnt from the Presidential Administration.

    During the meeting the sides discussed the Belarusian-German political dialogue and economic cooperation. The participants of the meeting shared their views on a wide range of issues related to the relations between Belarus and the European Union and Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership project initiated by the EU.

    The sides pointed out the stable and pragmatic character of the dialogue between Minsk and Brussels.

    Second heart transplantation operation performed in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The second heart transplantation operation was performed in Belarus on the night of March 25/26, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Health Ministry.

    According to Alexander Mrochek, director of the Cardiology research and practical centre, the heart was transplanted into a 55-year-old man with dilated cardiomyopathy. The heart transplant was delivered by helicopter from Brest.

    The surgery was conducted in the Cardiology research and practical centre. According to doctors, the patient is feeling as expected after such a surgery. He is conscious and is taken off artificial lung ventilation

    The first heart transplant surgery was performed in Belarus on the night of February 11/12. The 36-year-old heart transplant patient suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. The heart of the patient contracts well, all the physiological parameters are normal. The patient is to be discharged today, March 27.

    Surgery performed faster than first one

    The condition of the Belarusian second heart transplant patient is satisfactory, he is feeling as expected after such a surgery, Director of the National Cardiology Research Centre Alexander Mrochek told reporters, BelTA has learnt.

    “At the moment the patient is conscious; he has been taken off the artificial lung ventilation,” Alexander Mrochek added.

    The second heart transplant patient is a 55 year old man who suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. He entered the Cardiology Centre on March 25 where he was carefully examined and prepared for the transplantation. The donor heart was delivered by a helicopter from Brest within an hour and a half. It is important because the organ can ‘live’ outside a human body for only about 3-4 hours.

    The transplant surgery started at 2 am and was over at 7 am. It took about one hour less than the previous one, Alexander Mrochek pointed out.

    Comparing the two surgeries, Alexander Mrochek said that with every new operation the surgeons perfect their skills, get more experience and enter a new level of professionalism.

    The second heart transplant surgery was performed in Belarus on the night of March 25/26. The surgery was performed by the same team of surgeons who carried out the first heart transplantation.

    Belarus’ first heart transplant patient discharged from hospital

    Belarus’ first heart transplant patient has been discharged from hospital, BelTA has learnt.

    The patient’s condition is good, her heart contracts well, all the physiological parameters are normal; after she leaves hospital she will undergo frequent follow-up checks. Apart from that, she will undergo rehabilitation at the national clinical hospital of medical rehabilitation in Aksakovschina.

    The first heart transplant surgery was performed in Belarus on the night of February 11/12. The 36 year old heart transplant patient suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. The surgery lasted more than five hours. A total of 20 specialists took part in the surgery.

    Heart transplantation is an extremely complicated surgery; it is preceded by a long period of preparation. The heart surgeons, anaesthetists and perfusionists have been trained abroad. The organ has to be transplanted in the shortest time possible: surgeons have about four hours to carry out donor organ recovery, transportation and transplantation. About 20 recipients are on the waiting list now. However, the choice of a recipient depends of the compatibility of organs and tissues of a donor and a recipient.

  • Economics...

    Br2 trillion to be spent on innovation technologies in Belarus in 2009

    From: BelTA
    In 2009 the innovation funds will allocate Br2 trillion to support the economic growth and introduce innovation technologies, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told reporters on March 26. The Belarusian Premier is currently on a working visit to Grodno.

    “The investment projects should be implemented in full even in the conditions of the global crisis,” the Prime Minister said visiting Grodno Khimvolokno. According to him, over the past two years, the enterprise significantly increased the production of cord fiber, improved its quality and competitiveness. In 2006-2008, a large-scale reconstruction was carried out at Grodno Khimvolokno; the enterprise installed equipment which capabilities are unmatched in post-Soviet states and even in some European countries. ‘The very fact that we colour and export cord fiber to Europe (where similar companies are on the verge of bankruptcy) gives an opportunity to advance on foreign markets introducing innovation technologies. We should bolster our economy, in particular via implementation of investment projects,’ the Belarusian head of government said.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, the manufacturing industry has to preserve the traditional markets and invest in development. In his words, at present the market is picking up after the downward trends in autumn. The economy of the Grodno oblast is no exception. In March the enterprises of the region produced goods worth Br420 billion and the sales are expected to hit Br400 billion, Sergei Sidorsky added.

    The anti-crisis programme adopted in late 2008 is being constantly adjusted and fine-tuned; the decisions taken give an opportunity to support the Belarusian economy, the Premier said.

    Gazprom has no plans to buy out controlling interest in Beltransgaz

    The possibility of Gazprom’s buying out the controlling interest in Beltransgaz is not being discussed, Beltransgaz Director General Vladimir Mayorov told the press on March 27.

    There are no plans to buy the controlling interest at present and Gazprom has no plans to prematurely buy out the remaining 12.5% share in Beltransgaz as stipulated by the contract, stressed the Director General.

    He remarked at present Gazprom owns 37.5% of Beltransgaz shares while Belarus owns 62.5%. The next purchase of a 12.5% share is scheduled for February 2010, said Vladimir Mayorov. He added that Beltransgaz has no other information regarding relevant intentions or negotiations.

    In turn, Gazprom Deputy Chairman of the Board Andrei Kruglov confirmed that increasing the Russian company’s share in Beltransgaz up to the controlling interest is not being discussed at present.

    Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz delivers natural gas to domestic customers and transports gas via the country. The company operates around 7,000 km of gas pipelines, which diameter varies between 100 mm and 1,400 mm, and services the Belarusian section of the Gazprom-owned transcontinental pipeline Yamal-Europe. With a view to setting up a Belarusian-Russian gas transportation joint venture, on May 18, 2007 the State Property Committee of Belarus and OAO Gazprom signed a contract for selling 50% of Beltransgaz shares for $2.5 billion. Gazprom is supposed to pay $625 million for 12.5% of Beltransgaz shares every year between 2007 and 2010. Gazprom now owns 37.5% of Beltransgaz shares after buying another package of shares on February 11, 2009.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Dutch remain opposed to EU meeting Belarus leader

    From: IHT
    Vladimir Lukashenko (pictured), a farmer from Malihu, has not been invited, but maybe Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, could go...
    The Dutch remained opposed Friday to inviting Belarussian President Vladimir Lukashenko to an East-West summit in May that is to launch an ambitious EU program of trade and aid benefits for six ex-Soviet republics.

    Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen suggested inviting Lukashenko to the Prague summit would trivialize his dismal human rights record.

    "Lukashenko should not be given a political platform," he said at an EU foreign ministers meeting.

    The ministers debated plans for the EU leaders to sign an "Eastern Partnership" with their counterparts from Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus in Prague on May 7.

    Concerned about Lukashenko's authoritarian rule, the EU imposed a travel ban on him and 34 other Belarussian officials in 1999, along with freezing their assets.

    The travel ban was lifted recently to allow Lukashenko — whom some in the West call "Europe's last dictator" — to amend his ways and come to Prague.

    The EU foreign ministers made no decision, said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner who had proposed "to give Lukashenko another chance."

    She said there was still time "to see how things will evolve," refering to April meetings with Belarus officials and non-governmental groups about human rights and other issues.

    The European Commission hopes to forge closer ties with six ex-Soviet republics — where Moscow retains much sway. The proposed partnership would offer the EU's eastern neighbors free trade, economic assistance, regular security consultations, economic integration, technical expertise and visa-free travel.

    The partnership will be open to those neighbors that commit to democracy, the rule of law, sound economics and human rights.

    In the past year, EU officials said, Belarus has made modest improvements in its rights record, notably by allowing two newspapers that had been banned to start publishing again. A dozen others remain banned.

    The EU's desire to accommodate Belarus reflects the growing importance the bloc gives to stability on its eastern doorstep. The region is crucial to the flow of energy to the EU.

    Belarus to pay $148 per 1,000 cu m of Russian gas for 1Q09

    From: RIA
    Belarus will pay about $148 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas supplied by Russia in the first three months of the year, the Russian Embassy in Minsk said on Friday.

    An embassy official said such an agreement had been reached during a meeting between the Belarusian and Russian presidents on March 19 in Moscow.

    Russian Ambassador to Minsk Alexander Surikov said in February the price of Russian natural gas for Belarus would average $150 per 1,000 cu m in 2009, adding that everything would depend on crude and oil derivatives prices.

    Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko previously said the average gas price for Belarus was expected to be $148 per 1,000 cu m, but with oil prices falling below $50 per barrel, gas prices could be lower than the 2008 level ($128 per 1,000 cu m).

    Belarus earlier requested that Russia cut gas prices due to the falling oil price on global markets.

    However, Russian energy giant Gazprom denied on Friday that any agreement had been reached on an "average" price for gas deliveries in 2009 or that the price would be linked to world oil prices.

    A blow for religious freedoms comes in Belarus

    From: MNN
    Both International Christian Concern and Forum 18 News are sounding the alarm for believers in Belarus.

    The Supreme Court upheld registration requirements for church bodies under the Religion Law.

    On March 2nd, Forum 18 explains, the Court rejected an appeal brought by a Pentecostal pastor against a fine for leading an unregistered religious organization.

    Pastor Valentin Borovik had argued that the requirement to register broke both the Belarusian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a position supported by international human-rights lawyers.

    Dismissing the appeal out of hand, however, the Supreme Court's vice-chairman ruled that Borovik's rights to freedom of conscience "were not violated in any way."

    According to Voice of the Martyrs' Canada, despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and faiths shall be equal before the law," the law stipulates that all unregistered religious activity (communities with fewer than 20 members, and any religious activity in private homes) are considered illegal. Religious communities that do not have a registered umbrella body are not able to invite foreign citizens for religious work, and all religious literature is subject to censorship.

    Religious organizations were required to be re-registered by November 2004. However, registration is a difficult process, and many organizations have been unable to do so.

    Forum 18 also notes that some church bodies refuse compulsory state registration on theological grounds. The Council of Churches Baptists still insist on public activity and therefore are particularly subject to prosecution.

    A member who recently operated a Christian street library in Osipovichi (Mogilev [Mahilyow] Region) now plans to appeal a March 4 local court decision to impose a fine and destroy seized literature. "The Bible and New Testament are the Word of the Living God, and so the destruction of these books is sacrilege," Nikolai Poleshchuk writes in a March 25 open statement. "The dissemination of my convictions is my lawful right."

    On January 11, Poleshchuk and another Baptist were approached by Anna Zemlyanukhina, the head of Osipovichi District Ideology Department, who told them they had no right to run a Christian street library as their church is unregistered, and she called the police.

    Situations like the one in Osipovichi and others previously covered by MNN are expected to increase. Some of Forum 18's sources question the need for the registration and expect underground churches to encounter more state harassment. Keep praying for the growing church.

    EU Set To Gamble On Belarus Invite To 'Partnership' Summit

    From: RFE/RL
    A consensus has emerged at a meeting in the Czech Republic of EU foreign ministers to invite Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to an upcoming launch summit of the Eastern Partnership, on the tacit understanding that the authoritarian leader does not show up at the event himself.

    According to diplomatic sources present at the meeting, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, which has an office in Minsk, appears to believe that if invited, Lukashenka would send his foreign minister, Siarhey Martynau, or some other senior official in his stead.

    The ministers are in the Czech Republic for two days of informal talks at a scenic southern Bohemian castle that once belonged to the family of their host, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

    After a debate on Belarus that Scwarzenberg described as "very open" -- diplomatic code for contentious -- the EU appears convinced that it can afford the gamble.

    After the talks on March 27, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana indicated that the majority of the bloc's member states would like everyone to be present at the May 7 summit in Prague.

    "As you know, an important summit has been convened by the Czech [EU] presidency, a very important summit, and we would like everybody to be present at that summit," Solana said. "We have discussed what could be the best manner to have everybody around [the table] at that summit in a constructive attitude. I don't think we can go beyond that now."

    But "everyone" might well be interpreted to mean "every country," not necessarily "every leader."

    Eliminate The Risk

    If it works, the stratagem could eliminate the risk of an offended Belarus boycotting the summit altogether if Lukashenka is not invited. On the other hand, Lukashenka's absence could reduce the danger of inevitably awkward scenes.

    The Netherlands, in particular, has threatened to publicly upbraid Lukashenka if he shows up in the manner of the treatment meted out to the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe at an EU-Africa summit a few years ago.

    Critics fear Lukashenka would exploit the summit limelight to air his own, in all probability largely unreconstructed, views.

    Many EU officials argue that Belarus's presence at the summit -- and in the Eastern Partnership -- is of vital importance to lend the project credibility. Backers have long played up the project as an alternative to Russia's assertive quest for dominance outside its borders. Russia itself has attacked the EU vehemently in recent weeks for purportedly seeking to establish its own "sphere of influence."

    Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the future of the Western Balkans are also on the ministers' agenda.

    Schwarzenberg said the first day of discussion paved the way for a trans-Atlantic exchange of views that is expected to take place in Prague on April 5, when the 27 EU leaders meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.

    "There will be a discussion with the United States at the summit in Prague exactly about this," Schwarzenberg said. "There the heads of state of the EU will discuss with President Obama whatever we can deliver."

    Schwarzenberg did not directly respond to Obama's recent calls for greater EU involvement in Afghanistan, but said he "understands" the United States expects the bloc to contribute "civilian" assistance in the form of an enhanced "gendarmerie-style" police-training mission.

    The EU foreign ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to a "two-state" solution in Israel and the Palestinian territory, without which Solana said there would be "no peace process, no solution."

    The ministers are expected to meet their counterparts from the Western Balkans for talks on the future of the region on the second day of the gathering in Hluboka.

  • From the Opposition...

    Dutch foreign minister doesn’t want to shake hands with Europe’s last dictator

    From: Charter 97
    Czech Hluboka
    An issue of EU-Belarus relations is to be discussed at an informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers opening in Czech Hluboka on March 27.

    As the European Union press service reports, the ministers are supposed to address the situation in the Middle East, the ESDP civilian mission and Belarus. On March 28, they will discuss the situation in the Western Balkans together with foreign ministers of Croatia, Turkey and Macedonia.

    It is planned that no official documents will be adopted. “The aim of Gymnich has always been to offer an informal platform for a thorough discussion of several current or sensitive issues,” the EU press room reports.

    It should be reminded that on March 20, the EU leaders approved the Eastern Partnership program, in which 6 post-Soviet countries, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, will take part.

    However, a question of whether Alyaksandr Lukashenka should be invited for a summit, launching the program, on May 7 hasn’t been decided yet. This issue is expected to be discussed at Gymnich.

    A discussion over Belarus was initiated by the Netherlands, Radio Svaboda reports with reference to European mass media. Dutch foreign minister Maxime Verhagen has repeatedly spoken for tightening sanctions against the Belarusian authorities. Verhagen stood against visa moratorium on Alyaksandr Lukashenka and high-ranking Belarusian officials on 9 months during the latest meeting of EU ministers on Brussels.

    According to Maxime Verhagen, inclusion of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership initiative doesn’t exclude the fact that Lukashenka may take part in the EU summit in May. This could cause some embarrassment to EU leaders, who could find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of having to shake hands with the man still widely viewed as “Europe's last dictator”.

    Protest action of entrepreneurs in Mahilou: tax increase cancelled

    From: Viasna
    The result of the today’s meeting of entrepreneurs was that the Mahilou region executive committee suspended operation of a regulation of the region council on single tax and value added tax increase.

    About 300 entrepreneurs came in the morning to Lenin square in Mahiou near the building of the region executive committee protesting against tax increase, Radio Svaboda reports.

    Dealers must pay about 1.1 million rubles taxes per month from April. Entrepreneurs say the amount of taxes is economically groundless, most of them earn less.

    Dealers gathered signatures under an address to the regional executive committee and demanded that the region executive committee should call urgent session of the region council that would cancel the decision on the single tax increase. The entrepreneurs went to the region executive committee to hand in the signatures. They said they had an appointment with Viktar Krasouski, head of the committee on business.

    The result of the meeting was that the Mahilou region executive committee suspended the regulation of the region council on single and value added taxes increase. The region administration assured the entrepreneurs that next tax increase would be agreed with them. after that businessmen ended the meeting and went away.

  • Around the Region...

    Issues weighing on US-Russia relations

    From: AP
    _ ARMS CONTROL: The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a Cold War accord that cut nuclear arsenals and set up a mutual inspection system, expires Dec. 5. Both Moscow and Washington say they want to negotiate a successor treaty.

    _ AFGHANISTAN: The U.S. is struggling to ensure military supply routes to Afghanistan after Kyrgyzstan said it would evict U.S. forces from an air base there — a decision the U.S. blames on Russia. Moscow, which also fears Afghan violence destabilizing Central Asia, is allowing Afghan-bound, non-lethal U.S. and NATO cargo to transit Russia, and says it may also allow weapons shipments.

    _ MISSILE DEFENSE: Russia vehemently objects to U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and promises to target it with short-range missiles. Washington says the system is designed to protect Europe from potential Iranian missiles. The Obama administration has signaled it may consider delaying deployment.

    _ IRAN: Washington and other allies suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, and has protested over Moscow's help to Iran in building its first nuclear power plant. Russia insists the plant's construction is strictly a commercial deal, but has given some support to U.S.-proposed U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

    _ NATO: The U.S. and some NATO allies have pushed to expand the alliance into ex-Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia. Moscow views it as an encroachment on its historical sphere of influence.

    _ ENERGY: Washington has supported efforts to build new export routes that bypass Russia in getting oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caucasus to Western markets. Moscow has maneuvered to stop that, signing gas deals with Central Asian countries such as Turkmenistan and reaching deals with several European Union countries that undermine proposed EU-backed pipelines.

    _ TRADE: Russia's is the largest economy not yet in the World Trade Organization. After years of negotiation, the U.S. is the main WTO member that has yet to sign a deal with Russia, with talks dragging on over intellectual property, financial services and other issues. Moscow also wants Washington to cancel a Soviet-era law that has restricted bilateral trade.

    Russian capsule docks at space station

    From: AP
    A Russian cosmonaut steered a Soyuz capsule carrying U.S. billionaire tourist Charles Simonyi to dock successfully at the international space station Saturday after a last-minute problem with one of the capsule's engines.

    Russian engineers played down the decision to dock manually but the incident raised questions about Russia's otherwise famously reliable spacecraft.

    Roscosmos flight director Vladimir Solovyov said an autopilot signal went off just a few minutes before the scheduled docking showing that one of the engines had failed.

    He said engineers then ordered cosmonaut Gennady Padalka to manually dock because of the possibility that an emergency computer program would have fired the Soyuz engines and sent it moving away from the orbiting station.

    The docking by Padalka appeared otherwise smooth and slightly ahead of schedule, coming roughly two days after blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan's barren steppe. Russian cosmonauts typically receive extensive training in the event Soyuz's autopilot fails or some other problem pops up.

    "We have to figure out what happened," he told a news conference at Russia's mission control in Korolyov, on Moscow's outskirts.

    Applause broke out among space officials and crew relatives gathered at mission control after the hookup was announced.

    The crews of the capsule and the station were to spend around three hours checking seals and instruments before opening the air locks and meeting up face-to-face.

    Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt will join the station's current crew, while Simonyi, who is making his second trip as a paying customer to the space station, returns to Earth on April 7 along with cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and NASA astronaut Michael Fincke.

    Simonyi, a Hungarian-born software designer who helped build software for Microsoft Corp., is expected to be the last paying customer to travel aboard a Russian spacecraft to the station for the foreseeable future since the station's permanent crew is expanding from three to six.

    During his time on the station, Simonyi plans to conduct medical and radiation experiments and chat with schoolchildren and family via communication links.

    The arrival of the three Soyuz crew comes just three days after the departure of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery after wrapping up a 13-day mission highlighted by the successful installation and unfurling of the station's last pair of solar wings.

    The touchdown of the Discovery and its crew was scheduled for late Saturday at NASA's spaceport.

    Grim ending to Ukraine's 'orange' fairy tale

    From: E Taiwan
    Protesters rally around a Vladimir Lenin monument, seen in the background, in central Donetsk, Ukraine, on Friday. About 30,000 activists from the opposition Party of Regions waved blue flags and chanted 'Crisis Stop!' and 'Down with the Authorities!'' Opposition activists around the country are holding anti-government protests, demanding early elections amid a worsening financial crisis.
    For thousands of jubilant Ukrainians crammed into Kiev's main square on Jan. 23, 2005, a duo of pro-Western politicians were a prince and princess ready to whisk them to a magic land of EU membership and prosperity.

    Now with the so-called Orange Revolution that swept the old order from power a distant memory, the tale of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko is, like many folk tales, heading for a somewhat macabre end.

    A victorious Yushchenko took the acclaim of the crowds that day after finally being inaugurated president after a disputed election. Tymoshenko would a few days later become his prime minister.

    But now Ukraine is among the countries worldwide worst hit by the economic crisis and the two leaders have been engaged in a poisonous feud that has made them a laughing stock in the media.

    With next presidential elections expected in January, Yushchenko's poll ratings are languishing at less than three percent, possibly making him the most unpopular elected head of state in the world.

    "The economic crisis is more serious than in other countries. But there is another factor: the political instability and constant crisis situation," said the director of the Penta political research center Volodymyr Fesenko.

    "There is a great disappointment with the existing political leadership."

    The vast independence square in central Kiev that was the main arena for 2004's peaceful uprising is now inhabited by the grubby tents of protesters who have been staging a sit-in against the ruling elite over the past four weeks.

    "Get Usikh!" reads the Ukrainian-language slogan of one movement daubed on its tents along with a broom. "Clear Out!"

    The country's economy is paying for its continued reliance on exports from Soviet-era heavy industry, whose production has slumped by more than 30 percent as global demand slumped for metal and mining products.

    Only now have Yushchenko and Tymoshenko agreed to a formal ceasefire in their public battle, a condition set by the International Monetary Fund to give out a US$1.9 billion tranche of a standby loan vital for staving off the risk of default.

    The weekly Fokus put the pair on its cover as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia from the "Star Wars" films, under the headline "With Whom Will the Force Be?." The Korrespondent meanwhile portrayed the pair as child vagabonds in rags with the headline "The Children of Default."

    A twist in the tale?

    With the current story ending so badly, the question is what the next chapter will hold for the 46 million inhabitants of Europe's largest country.

    Yushchenko seems out of the frame, and the latest poll by the Razumkov center think tank shows his vanquished opponent from 2004, Viktor Yanukovich, leading with 19.5 percent and Tymoshenko second with 17.9 percent.

    The charismatic Tymoshenko, who still styles her hair with traditional Ukrainian braids, is conventionally seen as a pro-Western figure while Yanukovich draws his support from pro-Moscow Russian speaking regions.

    "For the moment, Tymoshenko is the favorite and she has a very good and strong team. But the crisis is working against her. With every week of the crisis, her chances of victory become worse," commented Fesenko.

    But labels are a tricky business in Ukraine's shifting political world and it was Tymoshenko who signed the deal with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ending the New Year gas crisis.

    Oleksandr Lytvynenko, senior political analyst at Razumkov center, said it would be wrong to see Yanukovich's Party of the Regions as an unambiguously pro-Russian force.

    "They can come up with pro-Russian slogans but Yanukovich accused Tymoshenko of acting in Moscow's interests when she signed the deal to end the gas conflict."

    "It is a party that is not interested in the integration of Ukraine into Russia but with obtaining power in Ukraine itself. The party was always like this."

    Adding further intrigue is speculation that Tymoshenko could form an alliance with Yanukovich which could see her staying as prime minister and the latter working as a more ceremonial president.

    And as if that was not enough, the Kiev political world has been abuzz with talk that an outside figure could spring to prominence in the elections.

    Areseniy Yatseniuk, 34, a pro-Western protege of Yushchenko and an ex-parliament speaker, is winning around 12 percent of the vote in presidential opinion polls although he is only just forming a political faction.

    Meanwhile, the establishment was rocked by the surprise victory of the Freedom movement of Oleh Tyahnybok, known for his populist Ukrainian nationalist rhetoric, in elections in the western Ternopil region this month.

    "Many people are saying that those in power are yesterday's people and new faces are needed. There is a demand for something new," said Lytvynenko.

    But for all the bitter disappointments, there have been dramatic changes within society since the Orange Revolution removed a corrupt regime that often seemed stuck in a Soviet time warp.

    "The relationship between people and politics has changed. It has become more rational, critical. There is no sign of the extent of stagnation in public consciousness that there was before 2004," said Lytvynenko.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Another arrest in Polish football scam

    From: Polskie radio and Polskie radio
    Polish football Premier League referee, Piotr P, has been arrested at his home in Warsaw following an ongoing investigation into the widespread corruption in Polish football.

    Only a few days ago, the referee was overseeing a match. Today, he is to be interrogated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

    The arrest of Piotr P. means that there are now only 17 referees entitled to referee matches in Poland’s top football league, although in order for matches to be played, the Polish Referees Association needs at least 18 certified professionals.

    Piotr P. is the 196th person to be detained in connection with match fixing in Poland since investigations began in May 2005. So far charges have been levied against referees, footballers and sporting professionals, including Wit Z. and Kazimierz F, board members from the Polish Football Association.

    He is to stand in front of prosecutors in the south-western town of Wroclaw where he will hear the accusations brought against him. He has refereed 12 matches so far this season.

    Another referee, Mariusz Z. From the Silesian town of Sosnowiec was arrested yesterday and has two counts of corruption brought against him.

    A fourth division referee has also been taken into custody for accepting bribes in the 2003/4 season in the Polish third division.

    In the continuing case of cleaning up Polish football, so far almost 200 people have had accusations brought against them over corruption in the sport. 68 of them have been arrested.

    Poland seeks refereeing help over corruption probe

    From: M&C and AP
    Miroslaw Drzewiecki
    Polish football is considering using referees from Germany and the Czech Republic amid a corruption investigation which is leading to a shortage of match officials, it was reported Friday.

    Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki said referees from the two neighbouring countries could be considered to help out in the Ekstraklasa, the country's top league, the Polish press agency PAP reported.

    "We must be aware that if need arises, we will have to sign temporary agreements with the Germans, with the Czechs," Drzewiecki told a news conference after visiting Slask Stadium, which is being overhauled for the 2012 European Championship.

    "If we are not able to have a sufficient number of our own referees, we will have to borrow them from abroad."

    The number of referees now officiating at matches in the league this season has fallen from 21 to 15. The Polish football federation PZPN requires at least 18 referees to run its league programme.

    Anti-corruption officials arrested two referees on Thursday in the investigation into corrupt practices in Polish football.

    The Polish Football Federation said the decision on hiring foreign referees "does not belong to Drzewiecki" but to it and the referees' association. However, spokesman Andrzej Strejlau said using officials from lower domestic leagues is a possibility.

    Rostowski accused of impropriety

    From: NWE
    Jacek Rostowski
    Leader of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, wasted little time in demanding that the Anti- Corruption Bureau delve into the minister’s finances to see how he could afford to pay back such significant loans, adding that Mr Rostowski had also failed to declare them.

    Jacek Rostowski, who is a member of the governing Civic Platform party, is alleged to have received the money from two British financial institutions, the Cheltenham and Gloucester building society, and Paragon Mortgages, a lender specialising in loans to landlords.

    But the minister, who was born in Britain and educated at the London School of Economics, said that in addition to his salary he also earns money from renting property in Great Britain, and has income from book royalties. This, he explained, allowed him to repay the mortgages.

    Despite this, the minister’s contacts with the banks have raised eyebrows with suggestions that he has a conflict of interests.

    The newspaper Gazeta Polska argued that by having the loans Mr Rostowski had fostered the impression that he had “nontransparent contacts with commercial banks which have a vested interested in decisions and plans for the Polish financial sector.”

    The controversy capped a bad few days for the government that had seen it rocked by one scandal involving the deputy prime minister, and leader of the junior coalition party, Waldemar Pawlak, and a further one tarnishing the career of up-and-coming political star Thomas Misiak.

    Polish Govt. hit by double corruption blow

    From: NWE
    Waldemar Pawlak
    Waldemar Pawlak, who is leader of the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), is accused of giving public tenders connected with the Voluntary Fire Brigade, of which he is also president, to friends and members of his own family.

    The allegations, which broke at the end of last week, have been vehemently denied by the Deputy PM who said, “I informed the PM about the full transparency of my activities connected with the Voluntary Fire Brigades. Already this year the association’s finances have been inspected by the Supreme Chamber of Control and the Ministry of the Interior and Administration.” He added that he thought the allegations to be a revenge attack against him and those around him for his battles with banks related to currency options.

    The Deputy PM, who in a radio interview last year defended nepotism in public life by saying, “One should be glad when children show similar interests to their parents and want to follow in their footsteps,” was joined in his defence this week by fellow members of PSL. They claim the allegations are an attack inspired by PO, which may have wanted to discipline the coalition partner.

    But this week PM Tusk said that PSL and PO had “different standards of behaviour in public life” and warned that Pawlak had violated political standards by establishing a business-social arrangement around himself.

    He added that the Deputy PM would or could not be disciplined, however, since he was not a member of PO and thus party standards did not apply to him.

    The PM was less lenient meanwhile with PO Senator Tomas Misiak who this week was forced to resign his position within the party after allegations emerged that during his time as head of the Senate National Economy Committee, his personal company, Work Service, received a contract to provide services without going through a public bidding process.

    Misiak, tipped as a high-flyer within PO and earmarked for head of the party’s European Election campaign, has also denied the claims, saying he had been “put on a cross for someone else’s sins,” a direct reference to the fact that Pawlak is to apparantly receive no punishment at all.

    Abused daughter tells of torment at hands of Polish pervert dad

    From: NWE
    Alicja Bartoszuk
    In the first interview since he appeared in court last week charged with illegal imprisonment, persistent rape and incest, 22-year-old Alicja Bartoszuk, told the daily tabloid Fakt “He made me believe that in every family the father sleeps with his daughters. He said that’s how a daughter is prepared for life with men.”

    The girl, who alleges she was held in captivity for six years and gave birth to two of her father’s children who were later put up for adoption, went on to describe how her mother, Teresa B., had urged her to induce miscarriages during the pregnancies by lying on the floor and dropping heavy boxes of tiles on to her stomach.

    “He doesn’t deserve to be called a father. I wish him death, for what he did to me, for wasting my life,” she told the paper.

    The accused, Krzystof B., 46, whose full name can’t be given in compliance with Polish law, has denied the charges of multiple rape, illegally holding his daughter captive and five other more minor crimes but has admitted to having ‘consensual’ sex with his daughter.

    He was arrested in September last year in the eastern town of Siedlce after his wife and daughter came forward with the allegations.

    At the time, Teresa B. told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper “I noticed something wasn’t right when my daughter began growing up. He touched her where he shouldn’t have. And when I wanted to talk to him about it, he said ‘I have a right to her’ as if she was his object.”

    She added that her husband beat her and her daughter when they asked that he stop the abuse: “He intimidated us; he threatened that my daughter would be killed, that he would destroy us both if anyone learned about it.”

    Also according to the mother, her husband used to order her to watch television whenever he went into his daughter’s room, closed it and removed the door handle.

    Prosecutors have since tracked down two children that Alicja gave birth to, but say they have not conducted DNA tests on the children to determine whether Krzysztof fathered them.

    If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

  • Sport...

    Eduard Malofeev receives UEFA Order of Merit in Emerald

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ famous football coach Eduard Malofeev was awarded the UEFA Order of Merit in emerald. The award was presented by UEFA President Michel Platini during a solemn ceremony in Copenhagen, BelTA learnt from the Football Federation of Belarus (FFB).

    The 66-year-old Eduard Malofeev is a coach of the St.-Petersburg Dynamo, which plays in the Russian Football Championship Second Division. His biggest success was in 1982 when Minsk Dynamo took the Soviet League title. During his long professional career he worked with the national teams of Soviet Union and Belarus and with famous football clubs such as Moscow Dynamo, Voronezh Fakel, Tyumen Dynamo-Gazovik, Makhachkala Anzhi, Minsk MTZ-RIPO, Lithuanian Kaunas, Scotland Hearts, and many others. When playing for Minsk Dynamo, Eduard Malofeev became a bronze medallist of the Soviet football Championship in 1963. He played 254 matches in the Soviet Union championships (100 goals) and 40 matches as a member of the national team (6 goals). He also participated in the 1966 World Championship and 1968 European Cup.

    The UEFA Order of Merit was also awarded to several other individuals who have dedicated their talents to the good of the game. The Order in Ruby was given to Leszek Rylski (Poland) and Viktor Ponedelnik (Russia). The Order of Merit in Emerald was conferred on Ante Pavlovic (Croatia), Sir Bobby Robson (England), Eddie Barry (Northern Ireland). The order to Nodar Akhalkatsi (Georgia) was awarded posthumously and accepted by his son, the current president of the Georgian Football Federation, in the name of his father.

    Victoria Azarenka hits WTA Top 10

    Victoria Azarenka of Belarus hit the WTA Top 10 after the Indian Wells semifinals. In the rankings issued by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) on March 23, the nineteen-year-old Belarusian is now No.10 both in the singles and in the doubles, which is her career-best, BelTA reports.

    In Indian Wells Victoria Azarenka defeated several strong players including second-ranked Dinara Safina of Russia and lost to Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, eventual winner of the tournament. In the doubles Victoria Azarenka teaming up with Vera Zvonareva clinched the doubles title to move from No. 18 to No. 10 in the world doubles rankings.

    The Top 10 Rankings as of March 9, 2009, feature Serena Williams (U.S.) – 9432 points, Dinara Safina (Russia) 9121, Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) – 7985, Elena Dementieva (Russia) – 7671, Vera Zvonareva (Russia) - 7090, Venus Williams (U.S.) – 6842, Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) – 5184, Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) - 4308, Nadia Petrova (Russia) – 3762, Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) – 3760 points.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Petr Elfimov: Queen and Webber fan going on stage at Eurovision

    From: Europvision
    The Belorussian representative Petr Elfimov will be taking Eyes That Never Lie on stage in Moscow in less than seven weeks. But did you know he's a great fan of the band Queen and the UK's song's writer this year - Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber?

    The five finalists in the Belorussian national selection were chosen in a semi-final which was held on the 15th of December, last year. The winner was be chosen via a televote. In the end it was Petr who won with his smashing song.

    He was born into a family of musicians. Petr’s father is a professional musician, a bass in a church choir. His mother is a conductor of a superb choir which won numerous first prizes at international contests. In 2007 she was ruled the best conductor out of 50 participants at an international festival in Poland!

    When he was eleven, Petr heard the famous British band Queen for the first time, and forever fell in love with rock music. He was overwhelmed by the unlikely harmony between the harsh instrumental sound and the incredible vocal polyphony. His admiration with the vocal capabilities of Ian Gillan inspired a spiritual journey into the creative heritage of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Even today Petr cherishes the hope to perform the part of Jesus in the famous rock opera Jesus Christ Super Star.

    Petr’s stage debut took place when he was six. At fourteen, he became the solo singer of a vocal band called Double W. In 1999 he created the Egoist band, where he was the solo singer and the song-writer. He wrote his first song, If You Only Knew, when he was eighteen. In 2004 he won the Grand Prix at the International Popular Song Contest Vitebsk 2004 within the framework of the International Arts Festival Vitebsk Slavic Bazaar. Then there were triumphs in Estonia, Poland, Serbia.

    In 1998 Petr finished the Mogilev Music and Choreography Lyceum. In 2005 he graduated from the Belarus State Music Academy, where he majored in Academic Singing. Since 2007 Petr has been teaching Popular Signing at the Modern Knowledge Institute named after A. M. Shirokov. Currently he is doing a master course at the Belarus State Music Academy, and is hoping to get his master degree this June.

    Petr tried his hand at various creative pursuits. In 1999-2003 he was the leading singer in a number of KVN (Merry and Inventive People Club) panel game teams, including the teams of the Belarus State University and the People’s Friendship University of Russia. Petr holds the title of the absolute champion of the International KVN Union.

    He has always tried to absorb as much beautiful professional music as possible (classical, jazz, blues, soul, heavy metal) which, no doubt, influenced his creative philosophy – it has "trace elements” of such widely popular music genres as heavy rock and romance.

    When he was eleven, Petr heard the famous Queen for the first time, and forever fell in love with rock music with its truthfulness, extraordinariness, sincerity and melodism. He was overwhelmed by the unlikely harmony between the harsh instrumental sound and the incredible vocal polyphony. Later, at fourteen, he turned to the roots of rock music and revealed for himself a constellation of brilliant performers, including The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Bryan Adams. His admiration with the vocal capabilities of Ian Gillan inspired a spiritual journey into the creative heritage of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

    Petr has given more than 50 solo concerts in Belarus. He also extensively tours foreign countries. To date, he has made two solo albums: I Want (2005) and The Bells (2007). Now Petr is working on a new album, Glance Of Love, which will include the track Eyes That Never Lie in the English and Russian languages.

  • Endnote...