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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Women's day, Corruption, Market trends, Europe, Russia, Biosphere, Liberalization, Opposition, Polish Scandal; News Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #392

    International Women's Day

    From: WIKI
    International Woman's Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women.

    Started as a political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries (primarily Russia and the countries of former Soviet bloc). In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother's Day and St Valentine's Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

    The IWD is also celebrated as the first spring holiday, as in the listed countries the first day of March is considered the first day of the spring season.


    The first IWD was observed on 28 February 1909 in the United States following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Among other relevant historic events, it came to commemorate the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The idea of having an international women's day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. By urban legend,[1][2] women from clothing and textile factories staged one such protest on 8 March 1857 in New York City.[3] The garment workers were protesting against very poor working conditions and low wages. The protesters were attacked and dispersed by police. These women established their first labor union in the same month two years later.

    More protests followed on 8 March in subsequent years, most notably in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights[citation needed]. In 1910 the first international women's conference was held in Copenhagen (in the labour-movement building located at Jagtvej 69, which until recently housed Ungdomshuset) by the Second International and an 'International Women's Day' was established, which was submitted by the important German Socialist Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified.[4] The following year, 1911, IWD was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, on March 19.[5] However, soon thereafter, on March 25, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City killed over 140 garment workers. A lack of safety measures was blamed for the high death toll. Furthermore, on the eve of World War I, women across Europe held peace rallies on 8 March 1913. In the West, International Women's Day was commemorated during the 1910s and 1920s, but dwindled. It was revived by the rise of feminism in the 1960s.

    Demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik feminist Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin to make it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, and it was established, but was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women's Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR "in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women's day must be celebrated as are other holidays."

    2009 International Women's Day

    On occasion of 2009 International Women's Day the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned that the specific health-care needs of women are often ignored or insufficiently taken into account in war situations.

    In the world’s least developed countries, many of which are at war, women are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than in developed countries, according to UNICEF. While armed conflicts and other violence affect entire communities, women are particularly at risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Because of poor security conditions or because they have no means of transportation, it is often impossible for women to reach a health-care facility so as to give birth safely.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    No corruption crime spike in Belarus due to global financial crisis

    From: BelTA
    The global financial crisis has not caused an essential increase in the number of corruption crimes in Belarus, Alexander Rakevich, Head of the Corruption and Organised Crime Office of the General Prosecutor Office of Belarus, told a press conference.

    According to the official, the number of thefts committed through abuse of office has increased along with the number of corruption crimes in science and healthcare, culture and education. Meanwhile, the number of corruption phenomena in the area of finance and crediting, agriculture has decreased.

    Alexander Rakevich remarked, in the healthcare industry bribes are mostly given for fake medical examination certificates (for drivers, catering industry workers) and for sick leave certificates. In education most corruption violations are related to exams both in vocational schools and universities.

    Corruption has caused around Br2.5 billion of damage to Minsk electrical company Minskenergo. Citing abuse of office, the Minsk city prosecution launched legal proceedings against former head of the heat engineering resources department of Belenergosnabkomplekt enterprise. The accused aided by the director general and the head specialist of the enterprise arranged a purchase of spare parts for a turbine of Minsk Cogeneration Plant No 4 at an knowingly excessive price.

    The investigation of the criminal case of former Minsk Oblast Prosecutor Mikhail Snegir will be completed in March-April 2009, said Alexander Rakevich.

    At present the value of the construction materials that Mikhail Snegir used to illegally build a cottage near Minsk is being assessed, said the official.

    BelTA reported earlier, in late 2008 Mikhail Snegir was accused of illegally building a cottage worth Br350 million using a nominee name. He faced charges specified by Part 3, Article 424 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

    Government of Belarus to allocate Br174 billion to stimulate employment in 2009

    Around Br174 billion will be appropriated to stimulate employment in Belarus in 2009. Some Br150.7 billion of this sum will be allocated by the Social Security Fund, Deputy Minister of labour and Social Security Piotr Grushnik told a news briefing on March 5.

    Some Br28.9 billion will be allotted to place 24,700 unemployed in professional training courses, Br41.9 billion to encourage employers to create new jobs. Some Br28.3 billion will be spent on unemployment benefits and financial assistance, Br20.9 billion on arranging public works, Br8.6 billion on support of business start-ups.

    In order to respond swiftly to the situation on the labour market, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security will monitor the employment services on a weekly basis. Every Friday the data about job applications, vacancies and so on will be submitted to the ministry. Operational reports on expected number of laid-off workers will be compiled twice a month. The analysis of operational data will help respond to modern challenges and take measures to stabilize the situation in every region of the country, Piotr Grushnik said.

    Belarus needs to respond swiftly to changes in world market trends, Sergei Sidorsky says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus needs to respond swiftly to the changes in the world market trends, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said at a meeting of the Foreign Ministry on March 4, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry press service.

    The head of government urged to take up all possible market niches, preserve the existing markets and penetrate into new markets including into those that are becoming vacant because of the global financial crisis. He also drew attention to the importance of joint assembling as one of the most advanced forms of production cooperation.

    Sergei Sidorsky also noted that in overcoming the global crisis Belarus and its key international partners place the main emphasis on providing equal access to the market. “For that we need to use all instruments we have available within the framework of the Belarus-Russia Union State, the EurAsEC and the CIS,” he stressed.

    The Prime Minister of Belarus urged exporting companies to use an aggressive marketing policy and flexible tools in order to preserve and develop the existing markets and to penetrate into new ones.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, it is also necessary to revise the conceptual approach and content of national and industrial exhibitions of Belarus abroad. The main criterion to being showcased at expositions should be sales potential of a product or its strength to attract foreign innovative technologies and investments in the development of the production in Belarus.

    The instruction was given to monitor the content of anti-crisis programmes implemented by other governments in order to efficiently cooperate with them in foreign economic policy.

    Global crisis will not affect Union State programmes, MP says

    The global financial and economic crisis will not change the replenishment of the budget of the Union State of Belarus and Russia, Alexander Antonenko, Chairman of the Budget, Finance and Tax Policy Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, Deputy Chairman of the Budget and Finance Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State, told media on March 5.

    “The possibility of cutting down the Union budget has not been discussed yet. Neither the reduction of the number of Union programmes nor the financing reduction is necessary so far,” said Alexander Antonenko.

    In turn, Vladimir Zdanovich, Chairman of the Education, Culture, Science, and Technological Advance Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, member of the Social Policy, Science, Culture and Humanitarian Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State, said that fulfilling Union programmes as fast as possible to avoid money depreciation due to the falling exchange rate of the US dollar is the key requirement voiced with regard to the financial aspects of Union State programmes.

    Belarus, France announce competition for best joint projects

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Republican Foundation for Fundamental Research and the National Center for Scientific Research of France announced a competition for best joint scientific projects. The competition spans 2009-2011, BelTA learnt from the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    The competition is aimed at financing scientific teams who carry out research in most crucial scientific fields that represent greatest interest for both sides and are priority areas of the fundamental scientific research. The deadline for submitting applications is May 29, 2009.

    Apart from that, the Belarusian Republican Foundation for Fundamental Research and the National Center for Scientific Research of France announced a competition for holding bilateral scientific seminars in 2009. This competition will promote and strengthen contacts between Belarusian and French scientists. The applications can be submitted till March 30.

    In the future the Belarusian and French scientific centres intend to expand their cooperation. During the visit of the delegation of the French centre to Minsk earlier this year, the sides agreed to develop a number of new promising projects.

    Belarusian, German scientists to set up sci-tech cooperation centre

    The technological cluster Metolit of the Belarusian National Technical University and the East-West Science Centre of the University of Kassel (Germany) intend to establish a joint centre for scientific and technical cooperation, BelTA learnt from the technological park.

    The park will facilitate joint research of Belarusian and German scientists and promote scientific developments of the two countries on the foreign market. In the near future, a package of practical proposals will be elaborated.

    The centre will be set up in line with a cooperation agreement in the innovation area signed by the two countries in January 2009. Under this document, Metolit and the East-West Science Centre will share scientific information, facilitate the transfer of new socially and environmentally important technologies, arrange joint scientific seminars and conferences. The agreement stipulates the formation of consortiums for the joint participation in international and European projects and programmes.

    Technology park Metolit of the Belarusian National Technical University was set up in 1992. It develops, assimilates and batch produces new technologies, materials and equipment. Metolit also helps small innovation companies promote their products to customers.

    Belarus needs to create biosphere reserve to preserve unique Augustow Canal area, expert says

    From: BelTA
    It is necessary to set up a biosphere reserve in the Augustow Canal region to preserve the Grodno Puscha (Forest), BelTA learnt from Oleg Sozinov, Assistant Professor of the Grodno State University.

    The Grodno Puscha is a unique ecological site which represents all types of pine and birch forests, marshes and meadows of Belarus, 801 species of vascular plants, 230 species of backboned animals 32 of which are included in the Belarus Red Book. The Grodno Puscha is a part of the biggest European ecological corridor which runs from Germany via Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia to Russia.

    According to the research conducted under the auspices of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences before the reconstruction of the Augustow Canal, the Grodno Puscha can be awarded the status of a biological reserve. First, it is its unique ecological systems and protected species of flora and fauna. Second, the Grodno Puscha is one of the most important bio-geographic regions with unique landscape and it is a key part of the European ecological corridor. Third, the region is in need of environmental measures and socio-economic development.

    The main advantage of the biosphere reserve is the creation of stable, harmonious relations between the preservation of nature biological diversity and socio-economic progress of the human society.

    The zoning conducted in the reserve determines the three types of area: the first type are the protected areas designed for research work only, the second type are the tourist areas and the third type are the areas where farm works are permitted.

    The international movement for setting up biosphere reserves is under the auspices of the Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) which was launched in 1970. If MAB grants the area the biosphere reserve status the reserve would have additional possibilities to get funding for research activity, economic development and environmental measures. Moreover, the area becomes more attractive for tourists.

    The Grodno Puscha is the national landscape reserve.

    Recently, Oleg Sozinov has taken part in a session of the interdepartmental coordination council for trans-border cooperation in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. The session considered the expediency of creation of the Augustow biosphere reserve. Participants of the session proposed to develop the socio-economic basis to set up the Augustow biosphere reserve, prepare proposals for MAB. Moreover, negotiations are expected to be held with Poland and Lithuania to discuss the creation of a trans-border biosphere reserve.

    There are more than 500 biosphere reserves in 105 countries including six trans-border reserves. There are three biosphere reserves in Belarus – the Belovezhskaya Puscha, the Berezina Biosphere Reserve and the Pribuzhskoe Polesie Landscape Reserve.

  • Economics...

    Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves 8.7% up in January-February

    From: BelTA
    In January-February 2008 Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves calculated using IMF methods increased by $265.8 million (8.7%) to a total of $3,326.9 million. The figure increased by 13.6% in February alone, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB).

    In line with the methods used by the International Monetary Fund, Belarus’ international reserves are defined as marketable foreign assets, which consist of monetary gold, special drawing rights, the country’s reserve position in the IMF and currency reserves. The reserve assets can be quickly used for money market interventions in order to stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, to finance the import of goods and services by the government, for paying and servicing the foreign national debt and for other purposes.

    In January-February 2008 Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated using national methods increased by $152 million (4.2%) to $3,814.2 million. In February the figure swelled by 13.4%.

    As of March 1, hard currency accounted for the greatest share of the international reserve assets of Belarus ($2,799.2 million, or 73.4%) along with precious metals and gems ($933.7 million, or 24.5%). In February the hard currency gained 0.7% while the precious metals and gems swelled by 16.5%. Other assets amounted to $81.3 million, or 2.1%.

    The NBRB expects the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves to reach $5,870-7,750 million in 2009.

    Belarusian ruble gains 1.7% against basket of currencies since early 2009

    Since the beginning of the year the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble has increased by 1.7% against the basket of currencies and stands at Br943.8 as from March 7. The change is within the 5% band of fluctuations allowed in 2009.

    The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar did not change and stood at Br2,870 per $1 during the trading session at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange on March 6.

    Meanwhile, the exchange rate of the euro went up by Br31 to make up Br3,647 per ˆ1. The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the Russian ruble went up by Br0.34 to make up Br80.31 per RUB1.

    Thus, since the beginning of the year 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 March 7 has decreased by 8.3% while the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the euro has grown by 1.5%, against the Russian ruble — 10.9%.

    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.

  • From the Foriegn Press...


    From: Eurasian home
    Minsk’s probable participation in the EU’s foreign-policy program “Eastern Partnership” is evidence of serious changes in Belarus. Rapprochement between Brussels and Minsk and, in general, of Belarus and the West is connected with the liberalization processes in Belarus, first and foremost, in the economic sphere. The economic slump has speeded up this process rather than caused it.

    The Belarusian economy has been liberalized since autumn 2007. Andrey Kabiakow, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus, was the first to say about that. The commission led by Piotr Prakapovich was created to make Belarus one of 30-40 countries having the best investment climate.

    I have anticipated those changes for a long time since now liberalization is a natural phase of the Belarusian economy development. Up to now, Belarus has developed as a resource state: the authorities controlled the resources and distributed them, in the main, at the expense of Russia’s subsidies. Now that is not enough.

    Another factor undermining the Belarusian economy is competition for manpower resources. Up to one million Belarusians make their living abroad. As a result, the country is short of hands, which gave rise to “wages race”. At first, it had been decided to make $500 a month the average Belarusian salary by 2011, then the figure was raised to $700. After Federal State Statistics Service mentioned that Russia’s average salary was $760, it was said that Belarus’ average salary should be $1000.

    This adversely affected the Belarusian economy with there being too few Russian subsidies. As a result, Minsk seriously intended to turn to the West trying to receive the Western investments, especially as they need not be returned.

    So, the West received the leverage over Belarus it has never had. At the request of the International Monetary Fund, the Belarusian government eliminates the budget deficit, which entails decline in the state-paid workers’ earnings and pensions.

    One can mention the recent devaluation of the Belarusian ruble. On 18 December 2008, President Aliaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus told the mass media that in 2009 the devaluation would make up 5%. But since the IMF issued the credit to Belarus on 31 December, the Belarusian ruble devaluated by 25% two days later.

    In 1996 Aliaksandr Lukashenka turned the IMF representatives out of Belarus calling them “pilferers” and “smart alecks”. He believed that Belarus had scored big economic successes against the IMF’s advice. Currently Minsk not only interacts with the IMF, but also carries out its recommendations.

    Lukashenka resembles President of the USSR, Mikheil Gorbachev – he becomes a weak politician in terms of the resources that are at his disposal. After the oil prices had come down in 1980s, Mr Gorbachev had to rely on the Western creditors. The Belarusian President is in the same situation.

    That’s why the liberalization will be more and more intense, but the process in Belarus will be far from being stable. When the executive chain of command becomes weaker, the civil society fails to control the situation, there is no independent mass media, the regional resources are stolen. For example, during the break-up of the Soviet Union Estonia was among ten major exporters of non-ferrous metals.

    The liberalization bills are approved in the country, but here specific character of the Belarusian system is also highly conducive to catastrophic consequences. For example, the enterprises will be able to write off their losses soon. At one time, the Soviet law on cooperative system let the state enterprises directors create cooperatives writing off the losses to the government assets.

    As regards the EU’s activities in Belarus, it is quite a natural process. The West and, in particular, the EU act not only in Belarus. The EU takes advantage of the opportunities appearing in Belarus. At present Belarus cannot live without credits. The National Bank spends $1 billion from its reserves a month alone, in which the West sees opportunities. Quoting Mikhail Gorbachev, one can say: “The process is under way”.

    Russia lends $500 million to Belarus

    From: Navini
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on March 5 approved providing $500 million to Belarus under a loan agreement between the two countries, BelaPAN said.

    “Today I’ve signed an appropriate government directive,” Mr. Putin said at Thursday’s government conference, according to RIA Novosti. “I ask the Ministry of Finance to promptly execute this directive.”

    Mr. Putin noted that Russia gave Belarus a soft loan in the amount of $1.5 billion in 2007 and provided $1 billion in late 2008. In addition, he said, during this period, Gazprom paid more than $1.2 billion to Belarus for a 50-percent stake in Beltranshaz, a gas pipeline operator.

    According to Mr. Putin, Russia and Belarus are cooperating constructively and steadily moving toward the formation of the Union State.

    On March 3, Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters that an interstate agreement would be signed within the next few days for providing a $500-million loan to Belarus and one more agreement would be signed later to provide another $500 million.

    The $1-billion amount is the money that Minsk expected to receive from Russia in the second tranche of a $2-billion stabilization loan before the end of February. Moreover, in late January, Prime Minister Putin promised that the tranche would be provided earlier.

    Belarus received the first $1-billion tranche of the loan on November 18, 2008 under an agreement signed by the finance ministers in Moscow five days before. The loan was granted at an annual interest rate of LIBOR plus three percent for a period of 15 years with five years’ deferment of repayment.

    At the end of 2007, Russia gave a $1.5-billion stabilization loan to Belarus at an interest rate of LIBOR plus 0.75 percent for a period of 15 years with five years’ deferment of repayment. Minsk requested the loan amid the increasing price of Russian energy imports.

    Russia says EU pressures Belarus over S.Ossetia, Abkhazia

    From: Ria Novosti
    A senior Russian diplomat has accused the EU of exerting pressure on Belarus not to recognize the former Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said in late February that Belarus would create "a very difficult situation" if it were to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. His comments came on the same day that the European Union announced the inclusion of Belarus in its Eastern Partnership (EaP) program.

    EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita-Ferrero Waldner also said that the possible recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Minsk could hamper its ties with the EU.

    "Schwarzenberg's statement should be regarded as severe public pressure from the EU presidency on Belarus," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said in an interview with the Russian daily newspaper, Izvestia.

    "In an unacceptable, ultimatum-like form, Minsk has been offered a range of possibilities for drawing closer to Europe in exchange for the surrender of its sovereign right to take decisions on major foreign policy issues," Karasin added.

    Under the EaP program, Belarus and another five former Soviet republics, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, will be granted 350 million euros ($448 million) in extra financial assistance by 2013.

    The Belarusian parliament is due to consider recognizing the two republics on April 2.

    Russia recognized the two states as independent on August 26, 2008. The move came two weeks after the end of a five-day war with Georgia, which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control over the republic. So far, only Nicaragua has joined Russia in acknowledging the sovereignty of the two republics.

    The Foreign Ministries of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have also slammed Schwarzenberg's statement.

    Karasin quoted Abkhazia's Foreign Ministry as saying it "posed a threat to the Geneva talks under the EU's auspices" that began last October.

    South Ossetia and Abkhazia split from Georgia amid bloody post-Soviet conflicts. The majority of residents of both republics have had Russian citizenship for many years.

    Sell Belarus. Or Else.

    From: RFE/RL
    Forget diplomatic niceties. No more speeches on multilateral political treaties, or long-winded explanations of Belarus's unique brand of democracy.

    Instead: Sell Belarus -- its tractors, fertilizers, textiles -- and its opportunities.

    That's the message Belarusian ambassadors received at their annual meeting in Minsk on March 4 from Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski. And, apparently, that's how success or failure of the diplomatic missions in 47 countries will be evaluated.

    Official statistics shows continuing industrial growth in Belarus -- that may be even true. Unemployment, according to the same statistics, is a meager 1 percent.

    But there is a little problem -- storage space. While exports are declining sharply (a one-third fall in January), state-owned factories (most factories in Belarus are state owned) are busy, sometimes reprocessing ready-made products into raw materials and making new ones again.

    The government ordered that they be sold at a loss, but that didn't help much. The combination of price and quality just wasn't tempting enough. Even Russia cut its imports from Belarus by 44 percent in January.

    And that's where the ambassadors, attaches, and other diplomatic staff come in: sell, sell, sell. If they fail to sell, they may be recalled. To build new storage houses, perhaps.

  • From the Opposition...

    West calls upon Belarusian regime to fulfil political conditions

    From: Charter '97
    In response Belarusian officials say it is impossible.

    Representatives of the European structures have called upon the Belarusian authorities to listen to recommendations on fulfilling political conditions, in particular, on including representatives of the civil society and opposition into the dialogue.

    The appeal was voiced on March 4 in Brussels during the discussion “After 6 months: what success and problems will take place in relations of Belarus and EU”, organised by factions of the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED), Pontis foundation and the non-governmental organisation “Bureau for democratic Belarus” (Brussels).

    As informed by the BelaPAN, according to representatives of the EU, these steps are necessary to Minsk in particular to avoid new visa sanctions against Belarusian officials.

    Hugues Mingarelli, deputy head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for External Relations, stated the readiness to develop a dialogue with Belarus. He told about possibilities of bilateral cooperation in the sphere of economy, mutually beneficial regional projects in the context of the crisis, programs for promoting Belarusian goods to European markets. The official stressed the importance of following the political conditions of the EU by Minsk.

    At the same time, Belarusian Ambassador to Belgium Uladzimir Syanko stated that to set forth conditions in the dialogue of Minsk and Brussels is impossible. He also denied a possibility to include representatives’ of the opposition into this dialogue. Representatives of the European structures reminded the Belarusian diplomat that one of the platforms of the Eastern Partnership policy includes cooperation with the civil society of participating countries. If Belarus joins this policy, it wouldn’t avoid that.

    Participants of the discussion from the Belarusian expert community called upon the EU representatives to extend the trial period for the official Minsk, suspending visa sanctions for another half a year. According to them, renewal of the sanctions would negatively influence the relations of Belarus and the EU.

    The decision on sanctions is to be adopted on the basis of consensus. At the same time, the proposal to prolong suspension of sanctions hasn’t been supported by all countries yet.

    Yana Paliakova sentenced to 2.5 years of personal restraint

    From: Viasna
    On 3 March the court of the Salihorsk district delivered the judgment in the criminal case against human rights activist Yana Paliakova.
    The human rights activist was tried under part 2 of article 400 of the Criminal Code of Belarus ‘false accusation’.

    The trial was attended by representatives of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Leanid Markhotka and Valer Shchukin. The court sentenced Y.Palyakova to 30 months of restraint of liberty, and ordered to compensate for moral damage of 1 million rubles to injured district police officer Puhachou, who has recently retired.

    It should be reminded that last November a case of prosecution of Salihorsk human rights activist Yana Paliakova by law enforcement agencies drew much attention of the public. Yana Paliakova said she was repeatedly detained by the police for her political activity. The woman was beaten in militia station, and militiamen almost broke her arm. It’s worth adding that Yana Paliakova was a member of the initiative group of Volha Kazulina at the latest parliamentary elections.

  • Around the Region...

    Inflow of foreign investments in Russia decrease by 14% in 2008

    From: ITAR-Tass
    Inflow of foreign investments in the Russian economy in 2008 decreased by 14.2 percent, as compared to 2007, and amounted to 103.77 billion U.S. dollars, the Prime Tass economic news agency said, quoting a report of the Federal State Statistics Service.

    In 2008, direct investments went down by 2.8 percent, as compared to 2007, and totalled 27.027 billion U.S. dollars, Prime Tass said, adding that indirect investments made up only 33.7 percent of the previous year’s index and amounted to 1.415 billion U.S. dollars.

    Other investments were 15.3 percent less than in 2007 and neared 75.33 billion U.S. dollars, Prime Tass said.

    Therefore, in the total structure of foreign investments in the Russian economy in 2008 the share of direct investments amounted to 26 percent, the share of indirect investments was 1.4 percent, and the rest of investments reached 72.6 percent, Prime Tass said.

    In the reporting period, the amount of redeemed investments, which Russia received from foreign countries earlier, was 16.3 percent more than in 2007 and reached 68 billion U.S. dollars, Prime Tass said.

    The overall amount of accumulated investments in the Russian economy reached 264.499 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2008, which was 19.9 percent more than in 2007, Prime Tass said.

    On that amount, direct investments reached to 122.39 billion U.S. dollars (46.3-percent increase), indirect investments – 5.63 billion U.S. dollars, and other investments - 136.58 billion U.S. dollars, Prime Tass said.

    Alleged human traffickers' ring exposed

    From: JPost
    As the country and the world marked International Woman's Day on Sunday, police revealed an alleged international network for trafficking women.

    Twelve people suspected of operating the network were arrested by Tel Aviv police. The force estimates the alleged network is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

    Members of the network allegedly worked over the past few years to import hundreds of women from the Former Soviet Union into Israel and Cyprus in order to use them as prostitutes, often coaxing them with false promises and in some cases threatening them.

    When the members of the network suspected one of the women was planning to file a complaint, they allegedly used severe violence to silence her and are also alleged to have run over and killed a woman who was planning to turn to the police. The women were allegedly smuggled into Israel through the border with Egypt and an airport in Turkey, and in at least one case, one of them was beaten in order to be "convinced" to go on the trip.

    The purported leader of the network is a known felon and a member of one of Israel's crime families, police said. He allegedly contacted local criminals in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Uzbekistan, who then contacted young women from local villages and promised them employment in Israel and Cyprus as waitresses and dancers.

    Fear of being captured by the police forced the gang members to close shop in Israel and move to Cyprus, but an agent who was formerly a criminal associated with them brought about their capture. Police are seeking to extend the remand of the main suspect, a 35-year-old resident of the North, as well as the other 11 detainees.

    Rusal announces debt standstill deal

    From: FT
    Oleg Deripaska’s UC Rusal said on Friday that it had reached a standstill agreement with more than 70 international banks to delay payments on $7.4bn in loans for at least two months.

    The Russian aluminium giant said the agreement, which could be extended for a third month, would provide it with additional liquidity as it seeks to reach a broader long term restructuring agreement with foreign lenders and Russian banks on $14bn in gross debt. Rusal owes an additional $2.8bn to Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian metals tycoon.

    “We are pleased that our lenders have endorsed our proactive steps to address the exceptional trading conditions and the current global economic crisis,” Mr Deripaska said in a statement. “The agreement... demonstrates the constructive nature of the ongoing negotiations between Rusal and its lenders.”

    The company made the announcement after it obtained the support of 75 per cent of the lenders at noon on Friday.

    But people close to the situation cautioned that the agreement must still be signed by the international banks.

    “I don’t think there will be any problems but I think we were all taken a bit by surprise that the client unilaterally announced the deal,” said one person close to the lending banks.

    The agreement would give some breathing space to Mr Deripaska, once Russia’s richest man, as he battles to keep his empire afloat. The global market collapse has revealed the vast borrowings that have gone into building his aluminium to cars to construction empire.

    His Basic Element holding company, which is wholly owned by Mr Deripaska and does not disclose its financials, has total debts of at least $20bn.

    One person close to the lenders said the standstill applied to the principal payments for the $7.4bn in debt and was only the first step in starting complicated negotiations with foreign banks on restructuring the debt.

    Members of the co-ordinating committee representing the international lenders have met Arkady Dvorkovich, presidential economic advisor, and Igor Shuvalov, the first deputy prime minister, in recent weeks as they seek to gauge the level of state support for a broader restructuring of Rusal’s debt, people familiar with the situation say.

    Rusal owes nearly $7bn to state-controlled banks, at least $4.5bn of which falls due this year. Mr Deripaska has said he does not need financial support from the state.

    But lenders have not received clear signals on the level of state support ever since the government suspended a $50bn bail-out programme for Russian companies with foreign debts, saying it would focus on providing support for the banking system instead.

    Rusal had been among the first recipients of the bail-out loans, winning $4.5bn from state-owned VEB to prevent its 25 per cent stake in Norilsk Nickel from being seized by foreign creditors last year.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    UEFA to finally crackdown on Poland’s corrupt football?

    From: The News
    UEFA has sent a letter to Poland’s football association (PZPN) demanding details of the ongoing investigation into widespread corruption within the Polish game.

    UEFA wants to receive a list of referees arrested since the investigation started back in 2005, information on charges levelled against them and a report by PZPN on its actions in connection with the scandal.

    Officially no threats have been made against PZPN but one possible sanction in UEFA’s power is to impose a supervisor to oversee the investigation.

    Up until now UEFA has appeared to trust PZPN to conduct the investigation unsupervised. When the Polish government stepped in last year and suspended the football associations board of governors, the European body threatened action against Warsaw - including suspension from international competition - complaining that sports associations must be independent of political pressure.

    Critics said at the time that EUFA appeared to endorse PZPN’s lack of tough action over the corruption investigation and was hindering the government in its efforts to cleanse the association of sleaze.

    Since then more arrests have followed, bringing a total of around 170 arrests of referees, managers and players at all levels of the game into custody. Last week a former coach of one of Poland’s biggest clubs, Wisla Krakow, was arrested, accused of match fixing.

    But out of concern for its own image and in the light of Poland being given the right to co-host the EURO 2012 a sense of urgency has finally entered into UEFA’s actions.

    Officials are already feeling a cold wind being blown from UEFA as not a single Polish referee is to officiate at matches in the European Champions League this year.

    Poles exploited in Sicily?

    From: The News
    They're animals so let them lose their souls
    The Polish Embassy in Sicily has been informed of another case of Polish workers being exploited by ruthless employers.

    Gerard Pokruszynski at the consulate told the PAP news agency that four Polish citizens had escaped a place they called “labour camp,” asking him for help.

    According to preliminary findings by the Embassy, around 200 Poles had been lured to Sicily by an advertisement published in a newspaper. After 3 months, it turned out that the workers had yet to receive any money for work performed.

    The complaint by the Poles comes on the heal of several other incidences of exploitative practices by Italian employers.

    In 2005. a 116 strong workforce was enrolled in Poland and transported to Italy, where workers were charged for the trip and deprived of all their money and passports. The Poles were forced to work long hours - 5 am to 10 pm - without any breaks and had to live under dreadful conditions. They had no running water, electricity and were given no food except for water and bread.

    In 2006, Polish police launched a special operation, code named “Promised Land” (Ziemia Obiecana) – which infiltrated and shut down the organized gang responsible.

    Drunk man squirts acid in baby’s face, Gdansk

    From: Polski Radio
    A man threw acid at a nine-month old baby, its parents and another man on a tram in Gdansk, on Friday.

    A man, Andrzej S,, was having an argument with the baby's father when he suddenly produced a syringe filled with sulfuric acid.

    "The victims were burned on their faces and on their hands. The burns are first and second degree,” said a spokesperson adding that at least one person has already left the hospital.

    The fight took place on Friday, but the police only informed the media about the incident Monday.

    Thirty eight year old Andrzej S., who was very drunk say police, ran away after throwing the acid but was caught 20 minutes later. Police say the attack was clearly premeditated.

  • Sport...

    Delegation of IIHF Evaluation Committee to visit Minsk

    From: BelTA
    Ernest Aljancic, member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and Head of the IIHF Evaluation Committee will arrive to Minsk, BelTA has learnt from Sergey Goncharov, General Secretary of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation.

    The aim of the visit is to inspect the readiness of the Belarusian capital to host the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship, study city infrastructure, hotels and Minsk-Arena facility. The guest will be offered to attend the national ice hockey championship quarterfinal match between Junost (Minsk) and Himik-SKA (Novopolotsk) on March 5.

    Belarus, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary and Ukraine are bidding to host the 2014 IIHF World Championship. The final voting on the IIHF Congress will take place in May.

    Ernest Aljancic will share his impressions about the visit at a press conference on March 6. A logo of the Minsk 2014 bid campaign will be presented at the press conference as well.

    Bid campaign logo of Minsk 2014 is ready

    A logo of the Minsk 2014 bid campaign was presented in the “Crowne Plaza” hotel on March 6, BelTA reports.

    Belarus, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary and Ukraine are bidding to host the 2014 IIHF World Championship. The final voting on the IIHF Congress will take place in May.

    Chairman of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation (BIHF) Vladimir Naumov and Head of the IIHF Evaluation Committee Ernest Aljancic presented the project of the future event.

    The logo represents a red colored image of a hockey player against the white background, moving towards the audience. A fragment of the Belarusian national flag and inscription Minsk-2014 are on the top of the logo.

    According to BIHF Secretary General Sergey Goncharov, specialists have been developing a design of the logo for a year. The terms of the competition were posted on a website of the National Ice Hockey Federation. Professional designers, fans, children participated in the competition.

    The best variant turned to be a project of a private designer Victoria Adamovich. She admitted that her main objective was to create a simple and clear logo. It should also include colors of the national flag. Victoria Adamovich presented ten different logos.

    It is the third time Belarus has bid to host Ice Hockey World Championship. Earlier Belarus had made bids for 2010 and 2013 championships.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Minsk to host Orthodox Songs International Festival

    From: BelTA
    The 10th Orthodox Songs International Festival will be held in Minsk from April 27 to May 3, BelTA learnt in the educational centre of the Belarusian Exarchate.

    The festival will be timed to the 25th anniversary of the celebration of the Belarusian Saints’ Assembly. Every choir –a participant of the festival – will perform a song dedicated to the Belarusian man of God.

    Taking part in the festival will be adult and children’s church and secular choirs from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia, France, the Netherlands and India.

    The celebration of the Belarusian Saints’ Assembly is conducted on the third Sunday after the Trinity. It was established in 1984 with the blessing of the Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia. The list of the Belarusian Saints includes 15 heavenly defenders of Belarus lived in various time and made great contribution to the mission of the Orthodox Church on this land. Sts. Mina of Polotsk, Simeon and Dionysius of Polotsk, Cyril and Lawrence of Turov, Euphrosyne of Polotsk, Athanasius of Brest, Macarius of Minsk, Prince Rostislav of Smolensk, Princess Sophia of Slutsk, Wonder Worker Joann and others are among them.

  • Endnote...

    Do-It-Yourself Censorship

    From: Newsweek
    Yaraslau Kryvoi was no stranger to censorship. After all, he grew up in Belarus, one of the last "outposts of tyranny" in Europe, as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice once put it. On Feb. 20, he got a notice from his Web-hosting firm that his account was being suspended and that he had 10 days to remove his content. Like many citizens of authoritarian states, Kryvoi had found himself on a blacklist.

    Trouble is, this story takes place in Washington, D.C. Kryvoi, a 29-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School, works at a reputable law firm. In his spare time, he administers a blog for the local chapter of the Belarussian American Association (BAA). Since the government of Belarus is subject to U.S. trade sanctions, Bluehost, the Provo, Utah, company that hosts Kryvoi's Web site, decided to cut him off.

    Westerners are quick to condemn the deterioration of Internet freedoms in Asia and the Middle East. But some U.S.-based Internet firms, spooked by export rules, seem to be committing similar sins. They practice a kind of self-censorship that bears a striking resemblance to the way Chinese Web-hosting firms censor customers for fear of incurring the wrath of Beijing. The situation is not helping the United States win friends and promote democracy abroad.

    At first glance, the U.S. rules don't seem all that onerous. The United States imposes two forms of economic and trade sanctions on rogue states. The Commerce Department has a blanket ban on a handful of states designed to keep sensitive technology, like encryption, from falling into the wrong hands. Since most Internet services provide encryption as a standard tool for secure communications, the rules would apply to Web hosting. The Treasury Department also keeps a broader list of states subject to trade restrictions, but it is not a blanket ban—rather, it targets "specially designated individuals," according to its Web site. The purpose of a specific list, of course, is to avoid implicating entire populations in what amounts to geopolitical squabbling.

    In practice, some firms are not so selective. For instance, it would be difficult to mistake BAA's Washington blog for an authoritarian mouthpiece. BAA is one of the oldest and most visible U.S.-based groups pushing for democracy in Belarus. Kryvoi, as part of BAA delegations, has briefed officials at the State Department. When Kryvoi contacted Bluehost to suggest it had made a mistake, he says a customer-service representative told him that, after consultation with the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a Treasury agency, Bluehost stopped dealing with clients who might have connections with sanctioned countries. The representative pointed Kryvoi to OFAC's Web site, which did not mention him by name.

    So why the ban? Although Bluehost is one of the world's biggest hosting companies, it probably doesn't have the time or resources to match the OFAC list with its own customer ranks. Banning everyone from Belarus takes much less time and effort. Indeed, Bluehost's contract with customers—the "terms of service" to which all users must agree when signing up, but which few ever read—states that the firm won't do business with citizens of Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe and "the Balkans" (raising some curious questions as to whether nationals of Slovenia or Romania make the cut). Kryvoi might have triggered an alarm when he paid his Bluehost bill by credit card while visiting his family in Belarus. (Bluehost president Matt Heaton, contacted by e-mail, wouldn't discuss the case.)

    Bluehost is not alone in banning all citizens from certain states. At least three other U.S. hosting companies—HostMonster, Blaser Hosting and Biz Builder Hosting—have similar provisions in their terms of service. What may make these companies skittish is the rules governing data encryption. The Internet has blurred the lines between sinister exports and harmless Web surfing—encryption, after all, is what makes browsing, e-mailing and online banking secure. When it comes to Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan (but not Belarus), the restrictions can be troublesome. Google, for instance, had to forbid downloads of its Chrome browser to users in these countries. In 2007 Yahoo and Microsoft removed Iran from the drop-down lists that let users specify their country of origin when they register. Of course, all an Iranian would have to do to get around this problem is select another country from the menu and use some software to mask his location. So much for the effectiveness of U.S. trade sanctions.

    The situation is not doing much to advance the interests of the United States abroad. For instance, Kubatana, a portal in Zimbabwe known for its ardent stance against President Robert Mugabe, got a cutoff notice from Bluehost in February. Eventually the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe contacted officials at the U.S. Treasury Department who confirmed that Kubatana is not subject to sanctions; Bluehost then reinstated the service. But this is not a smart way to promote democracy. Purging customers from Belarus or Zimbabwe raises hurdles for pro-democracy groups—many of them funded by the U.S. government—while allowing dictators to broadcast their propaganda unabated.