News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Belarus-Russia relations, OSCE, Moldova, Human trafficking, Renal transplants, Tourism, Weightliting, Protests, Ukraine, Polish scandal, and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #402

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus-Russia relations lack transparency

    From: BelTA
    President Alexander Lukashenko greets the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, 9 April 2009
    Belarus and Russia lack clarity and transparency in their relations, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Leningrad Oblast Governor Valery Serdiukov on April 9.

    “If someone says that Belarus is turning against Russia, it is outright lie. We do not see our future without Russia, we are destined to live together. But we would like to see more clarity and transparency in our relations. It is crucial for us, especially at this stage,” the head of state underlined.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, no one in the country’s leadership is opposing closer integration with Russia. “If I or someone else makes a statement about Belarus-Russia relations, I am honest and sincere, I hold the same stance in the CIS and EurAsEC. As for our bilateral relations, we do not hide anything from each other. The only difference is that the Russian leadership makes critical remarks about me not publicly, while I prefer to talk publicly about the problems in our relations,” the Belarusian leader said.

    At the same time, Alexander Lukashenko noted that after the recent working trip to the Gomel oblast, the printed press started talking about Belarus’ intentions to intimidate Russia using West or something else. “There are no such principles in our politics, especially towards Russia,” the head of state added.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed his concern about closure of the Russian market for Belarusian products. According to the President, it is the biggest issue and it contradicts the official policy of the Russian Federation. Alexander Lukashenko noted that the G-20 summit in London took an important decision not to close their markets and thus not to destroy developing economies.

    “If 80% of the world economy, including Russia, shuts down, the countries with export-based economies like Belarus will get into a lot of trouble. Therefore, the right decision was taken to overcome the crisis together. We do not need any advantages. But there should be free competition,” the President said.

    “The EU accounts for more than 50% of our foreign trade. This is all about it. It is not that Lukashenko “has sold himself to the West” as Russian press laments. The EU puts pressure on us and this position is understandable. But we do not understand Russia’s position who, as I have been informed, is blocking the access to its market for Belarusian products,” the head of state said. As an example the President cited the situation with sugar and milk deliveries to Russia. “Is this a common barrier-free economic space? Even if Belarus sold everything in Russia, it would not do any economic damage to the state,” Alexander Lukashenko said. If we do not speak about these facts in public, Russian mass media will pay no attention to the problems of bilateral trade, he added.

    They got to the point when they started reproaching Belarus for the $2 billion loan. The IMF extended the loan on better terms but Russia has pumped out much from the Belarusian economy by means of illegitimate oil duties, a three-time hike in gas price for the past 1.5-2 years. They have pumped out $10 billion for the past year and a half and gave a $2 billion loan under a huge interest rate,” the Belarusian leader said. We are very sorry for that. However, we will do everything not to lose Russia. I think Russia is not indifferent to the destiny of Belarus either,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed: “Everything becomes clear at the most difficult times. I do not say that the period is a catastrophe. I mean there would be no crisis if we met and coordinated our cooperation, defined the Russian ruble as a regional currency for at least that period”. The head of state added that Belarus could overcome the consequences of the global crisis itself but “it would be much easier for us to do it with Russia”.

    Alexander Lukashenko: meetings of Belarus, Russia Presidents help address irresolvable issues

    Meetings of Presidents of Belarus and Russia give impetus to the settlement of many thorny issues, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Gorki countryside residence on April 10.

    “Our meetings give officials a shake, as you say, keep them on the alert. Many issues that seemed irresolvable are solved on the eve,” the Belarusian leader said. Alexander Lukashenko underlined that it has some benefits for Belarus and Russia.

    Alexander Lukashenko thanked Dmitry Medvedev for finding time for private meetings. “We are close to each other, so it would be stupid not to meet when we have such an opportunity. He added that the leaders of the two countries “reached agreement on a number of issues that will be further discussed.”

    According to the Russian President, it is good to hold meetings frequently, thus the Presidents can share opinions on a wide range of issues. He added that he intended to discuss the recent G-20 summit that was held in London. “It would be useful to discuss the results of the London summit as they have an impact on the economies of almost all countries, including Russia and Belarus, even more so taking into consideration that they are interconnected,” the Russian President said. In his words, there are always issues on which it would be useful to share opinions and the Presidents regularly do it.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus to partake in OSCE PA summer session

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian parliamentarians will take part in the 18th annual session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vladimir Andreichenko told a press conference on April 9, BelTA informs.

    The OSCE PA session is supposed to take place in Vilnius in June-July. The Belarusian delegation will be headed by Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Valery Ivanov.

    According to Vladimir Andreichenko, the Belarusian parliamentarians will have a busy agenda in 2009. The deputies of the House of Representatives will take part in a session of the parliamentary committee of the Central European Initiative, the 16th session of the General Assembly of the Orthodoxy Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, the 33rd session of the General Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation PA.

    Representatives of the National Assembly will participate in the events of the EurAsEC, CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assemblies and the OSCE PA in St. Petersburg in May.

    The Belarusian Speaker also informed that the 121st IPU Assembly will take place in Geneva in autumn 2009. The 122nd IPU Assembly is supposed to be held in Thailand in 2010. The Belarusian parliament will prepare proposals for consideration at the 122nd IPU Assembly. They will cover such issues as the role of parliaments in preventing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the influence of the parliamentarians on the international cooperation development.

    CIS foreign ministers call on Moldovan political forces to renounce violence

    From: BelTA
    The CIS Ministerial Council has adopted a joint statement on the situation in Moldova, BelTA learnt from the CIS Executive Committee.

    The statement condemns the attempts to settle disputed issues using violence. The statement calls on the sides to observe the constitutional order and accept the results of the parliamentary elections which were recognized by international observers.

    A reminder, the agenda of a session of the CIS Ministerial Council in Ashgabat included 20 issues. The heads of the foreign policy departments considered the cooperation in political, migration, humanitarian, social and security areas. The foreign ministers discussed the priority measures of humanitarian cooperation for 2009-2010, proposals regarding the agreed migration policy of the CIS member countries, holding of ministerial consultations. The sides considered educational issues such as the development of the common educational area, cooperation in education for the period until 2010, the measures to implement the education development concept for adults.

    Participants of the session considered the draft agreement on exchange of the information about the fight against crime, the draft agreement on cooperation in investigation of air accidents. They also discussed the work of the CIS election observation missions, approved the draft agenda of the session of the CIS Council of the Heads of Government which is expected to be held in Astana (Kazakhstan) on May 22, 2009.

    Belarus initiates 2nd thematic debate on human trafficking in UN GA

    From: BelTA
    Belarus together with Bahrain, Egypt, Nicaragua and the Philippines initiated holding second thematic debate on human trafficking in the UN General Assembly. The debate will be held in New York on May 13, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The agenda of the debate will focus on Belarus’ suggestion upheld by countries from all the regions of the world that the General Assembly should adopt a global action plan to fight human trafficking. It is the second thematic debate on human trafficking of the General Assembly initiated by Belarus. The first debate was held in June 2008. Apart from that the International Conference on Trafficking in Women and Girls was established in UN headquarters in March 2007 upon the suggestion of the Belarusian delegation.

    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry informed that a meeting was held between President of the UN General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann and Permanent Representative of Belarus in the UN Andrei Dapkiunas, heads of missions of Bahrain, Egypt and the Philippines to discuss the forthcoming debate. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann pointed out an active contribution of Belarus to the international efforts to fight human trafficking.

    First pediatric renal transplantations preceded by meticulous preparation

    From: BelTA
    The first pediatric kidney transplant surgeries were preceded by a period of careful preparations, Oleg Kalachik, Head of the National Research Centre for Neurology and Kidney Replacement Therapy told reporters on April 9.

    In his words, the specialists stepped up their work in this area in the last two years. In spring 2009, Belarusian medical professionals received training in Great Britain. “The experience gained during this time allowed to minimize surgery risks for the children,” Oleg Kalachik said.

    Kidney transplant surgeries to children have a number of peculiarities. In particular, it is not safe to perform surgeries to pediatric patients at a hospital for adults because of specific requirements to per-operational treatment of such patients.

    According to Larisa Sechko, head of Minsk children’s clinical hospital No. 2 where the surgeries were performed, “our hospital is among most advanced ones and there are all conditions here to perform such surgeries.” The hospital is equipped with cutting-edge equipment, all the necessary medicines for the transplantation had been purchased. Before the surgeries, all the rooms had been thoroughly checked – even air tests had been made.

    The mother of one of the transplant patients said, “When doctors told us that only a transplant surgery can help our son, we immediately agreed to donate an organ.” The father of the boy appeared to be a perfect donor.

    Living donors among close relatives can be found for at least 50% of children. It is this kind of transplantation that has been proved to be most efficient. At present, 22 patients aged 9-17 are on the national waiting list for kidney transplantations.

    First pediatric kidney transplantation surgeries were performed in Belarus on April 6-7. The kidneys were transplanted to two boys aged 10 and 11 from the Luninets region of the Brest oblast and the Grodno region. The organs were donated by their parents.

  • Economics...

    Belarus’ revenues from tourist services 14.1% up in January-February

    From: BelTA
    In January-February 2009, the revenues from the export of tourist services in Belarus raised 14.1% from the same point in 2008, director of the tourism department of the Sports and Tourism Ministry of Belarus Viktor Yankovenko told a press conference in Minsk on April 10.

    According to him, an upside movement in the tourist figures was registered in Belarus last year despite the fact that in October 2008 the country faced the global economic slowdown that could have a negative impact on the tourism. The export of tourist services brought the country $109,8 million last year, a 78.8%-growth to 2007. Besides, last year the country also raised the amount of tourist services provided to the natives. The growth in comparable prices made up 56.2% from 2007.

    The upward tendency is maintained this year as well. In January-February 2009 the volume of tourist services rendered to the Belarusians grew more than 11%. The import otherwise reduced, with a growth at a little bit more than 70% to January-February 2008.

    “For the first time over the last six years Belarus has posted surplus in the revenues from the export and import in January-February,” Viktor Yankovenko said. This figure proves that Belarus has not lost its positions in inviting foreigners and, what is more, has become more active in using its tourist facilities – that is 258 hotels, 26 hotel complexes, hunting lodges and camping.

    Belarus increases investments in fixed assets by 20% in Q1 2009

    In Q1 2009, the investments in the fixed assets and construction in Belarus made up Br8.049 trillion, or 20% up in comparable prices from the same period of last year, BelTA learnt in the Belarusian National Statistics Committee.

    According to the Committee, in Q1 2009, construction companies fulfilled building and assembling works at the amount of Br3.791 trillion, or 23% up on the same period of last year.

    In the period under review, 1.327 million square meters of housing (8.2% up as against Q1 2008) was commissioned in Belarus including 558,000 square meters of housing – in rural areas and small towns.

    In Q1 Belarus’ GDP up 1.1%

    In January-March 2009, Belarus’ GDP was up 1.1% over the same period last year, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee.

    In accordance with the socio-economic development forecast, in 2009 GDP is projected to increase by 10-12%.

    In Q1 the industrial production made up 95.5% of the same period last year (the annual forecast is up 10-12%). The output of consumer goods rose by 0.5% (12-13%). The manufacture of foodstuffs was up by 6.3% (12-13%), that of nonfoods was down by 6.1% (11.5-12.5%).

    In Q1 2009, Belarus’ broad money supply up 2.7%

    In January-March 2009, Belarus’ broad money supply went up by 2.7% to make more than Br31.8 trillion, BelTA learnt from the information department of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus.

    As of April 1, 2009, the cash in circulation was down 19.4% in Q1 2009 to Br3.093 billion. The cash in circulation accounted for 9.7% of the broad money supply.

    As of April 1, 2007, transferable deposits of corporations and individuals amounted to Br4,942.8 billion, down 28.2%. Other Belarusian ruble deposits of individuals and corporations decreased by 13% to a total of Br7,933.7 billion.

    Belarusian ruble investments in bank securities shrank by 12.6% in Q1 2009 to make up Br616.2 billion.

    By April 1, 2009 the volume of foreign currency deposits reached Br14,825.4 billion, 45.3% up since early 2008.

    The volume of foreign currency bank securities expanded by 85.2% in January-March to a total of Br391.8 billion.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Protesters in Simferopol demand Ukraine join Russia-Belarus union

    From: Kiev Post
    The participants in a Crimean meeting on the protection of the peninsula's constitutional rights, which was held on Simferopol's central square on Saturday, have demanded that the Ukrainian leadership observe the Crimean constitution, and also called for Ukraine's accession to the Union State of Russia and Belarus.

    Around 1,500 people participated in a rally organized by the Crimean republican organization of the Ukrainian Communist Party and the Crimean party organization of the Union of Leftist Forces.

    The protesters were holding party flags and posters with slogans, entitled "Let's protect the Constitution of Crimea!" "Say no to Yuschenko's anti-constitutional actions!" "Crimean residents will defend their rights!" "Hands off the Constitution of Crimea," and "Crimean taxes should remain in Crimea."

    The protesters said that the Crimean communists had collected over 1.5 million signatures of Crimean voters since January 19, 2009 to defend the constitution of the peninsula.

    The leader of the Crimean communists, Ukrainian MP Leonid Hrach, while speaking at the rally, called for Ukraine's accession to the "Union State of Russia and Belarus, as it's the only thing that will save and protect us."

    He said that the anthem of the Soviet Union should become the anthem of this union state.

    Belarus offers tax breaks to carmakers

    From: Reuters
    Belarus is offering tax breaks to car companies willing to set up assembly plants in the ex-Soviet state and hopes ultimately to create a national automaking plant, a senior government official said on Monday.

    Igor Rogozin, a senior economy minister official, told reporters a decree issued by President Alexander Lukashenko would exempt any company starting up a plant from all income and excise taxes for three years.

    "This long-awaited decree has been signed and will allow us to create new production capacity for cars in our country," Rogozin told a news conference.

    Rogozin gave no details on companies with which Belarus could hold talks on or whether Belarussian companies would take part in such a project. But he said authorities were hoping to create capacity to produce 10,000 cars a year.

    "We expect that by the end of this year we will see some significant progress in this direction," he said.

    Dealers say the annual market in Belarus, a country of 10 million wedged between Russia and three European Union members, amounts to about 25,000 new cars. Officials have said they hope some of the cars produced can be sold in Russia.

    "No one has said Belarussian cars, with at least 50 percent assembled in Belarus, cannot be sold in Russia," Rogozin said.

    Several large plants already operate in Belarus, including the Minsk car plant, the Belarus car plant and the Minsk tractor plant. A row with Ford resulted in a plant being moved out of the country to Russia's second city, St Petersburg.

    A Belarussian-Iranian joint venture assemblying Samand vehicles outside Minsk last year had an output of only 300.

    Belarus East-West balancing act may depend on Georgia

    From: Reuters
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's careful balancing act between Russia and the European Union may yet come to grief because of a conflict on the other side of the former Soviet Union.

    Russia, his traditional ally, has been pressing Minsk to recognise as independent states two separatist regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after Russia drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia last August.

    This unofficial demand has been made just as Lukashenko has undertaken small but significant steps towards the EU, which condemned Russia's actions last August and has urged any country wanting friendly ties not to recognise the two regions.

    For years Lukashenko faced Western accusations of human rights abuses but recently he has relaxed his grip on the state and the EU has noticed.

    "The authorities now face an important choice -- to recognise or not Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And this choice is about with whom Belarus wants to be -- with the West or with the East," said Alexander Milinkevich, the most prominent leader of the often divided liberal and nationalist opposition.

    "This is the litmus test of how seriously the authorities want to develop relations with the European Union and what sacrifices they are prepared to make."

    The United States had long labelled ex-Soviet Belarus the "last dictatorship in Europe" and, together with the European Union, had accused Lukashenko of stamping out opposition by jailing activists, muzzling the media and rigging elections.

    But since arguing with Moscow in 2007 over energy prices, Lukashenko has gradually taken steps to appeal to the EU. The last of those the West called political prisoners were released last year and independent media have been allowed to publish.

    In response the EU has suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko and may invite him to a summit of eastern non-EU countries and EU members in May. That would be the first top-level meeting between Lukashenko and the EU in over a decade.


    Lukashenko has avoided a decision on recognising the regions by handing the matter over to Belarus's compliant parliament, asking it more than half a year ago to vote on the issue. But no motion has yet been submitted to the chamber and no one doubts that any decision would reflect Lukashenko's choice.

    So which will it be?

    "He has enough people around him who, though not democrats, are pragmatic enough not to close the open window of opportunity which the EU is offering and who are ready for a slow change to the system," said independent analyst Leonid Klaskovsky.

    "Lukashenko understands that the imperial ambitions of the Kremlin are a continuous threat to Belarussian independence in general and his rule in particular."

    Analysts say the row over gas prices in 2007, which resulted in Minsk paying twice as much for its energy, jolted Lukashenko into seeking friendlier relations with the West. That, in turn, angered Moscow.

    Russia has plenty of leverage over its smaller neighbour of 10 million people. Gas bills almost doubled in the first quarter of 2009 to $200 per 1,000 cubic metres, though prices are expected to drop as the year goes on.

    "Recognition (of the Georgian regions) may happen in the autumn or at the end of the year when the question of Russian gas prices arises," Klaskovsky said. "But I think Lukashenko would like to avoid recognition."

    U sources have said recognising the two regions would wipe out the progress achieved with Brussels and that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Lukashenko as much on his first visit to Belarus in February.

    Russia has given Minsk loans to offset the gas price rises and help Minsk deal with the global financial crisis, which was late in coming to the country but may cause serious problems as exports -- key to the economy -- slump over 45 percent.

    "The debt pit we are falling into and economic dependence on Russia are very dangerous. Full economic dependence on another country spells the end of Belarus's sovereignty," Milinkevich said. He said Belarus could pay its way by selling state firms, giving Russian firms a tighter grip over the economy.

    But apart from Russia's $2 billion (1.4 billion pound) loan, Minsk has also reached an unprecedented agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $2.4 billion loan. Some say that showed the benefits of moving closer to the EU.

    Lukashenko: RF Church should involve in RF-Belarus integration

    From: Itarr Tass
    President Alexander Lukashenko said on Saturday the Russian Orthodox Church should involve in integration of Russia and Belarus.

    Commenting on his Friday meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, Lukashenko told journalists: “We hope that the Russian Orthodox Church should take a more active part in integration of our states and maybe in the unity of Slavic civilisation the base of which is Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”

    At the same time, he noted that he asked the patriarch to rivet attention to this issue.

    “To this end, I told the Russian Orthodox Church head about Russian-Belarussian relations, the existing problems that prevent the creation of this centre for Slavic civilisation, for Orthodox civilisation,” Lukashenko said.

    He stressed, “The Church should take aside the construction of the union state.”

    “During the meeting, we discussed the second big topic – mutual relations between the Orthodox and Catholic churches,” the president said. “The patriarch sees prospects for strengthening the whole Christian world. I can say the patriarch has no hatred towards Catholics, the Catholic world,” the president said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Authorities again refuse to register Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs

    From: Viasna
    This information was voiced by the leaders of the Assembly on 10 April. On 9 April they received a letter, signed by the vice-minister of justice Alexander Simanau (the application for registration was submitted on 6 March, and the legal time for giving an answer is one month).

    The Ministry of Justice refused to register the organization, explaining the decision by alleged violations during the establishment of the Assembly of pro-democratic NGOs. In particular, the ministry states that the treaty on its establishment is invalid, because the heads of the member organizations signed it without the agreement of the governing bodies of the organizations. Another pretension is that the name of the organization allegedly does not point at the subject of activities of its members.

    Representatives of the Assembly consider the refusal politically motivated. ‘The treaty on the establishment of the Assembly was signed by the heads of the member organizations after they were authorized to do it by the assemblies of the organizations’, emphasized the lawyer Yury Chavusau. ‘We abided by the legal procedure, which is confirmed by the documents’.

    The lawyer also considers as fundamental the pretension that the name of the Assembly does not reflect the subject of activities of its members. ‘The Assembly includes very different organizations, and it is impossible to reflect the subject of activities of all of them in one name at once. If we consider this pretension as correct, it would be impossible to register any non-profile association at all,’ emphasizes Mr. Chavusau.

    Soon the leaders of the Assembly of Pro-democratic NGOs will appeal against the registration refusal at the Supreme Court. ‘At the same time, we will consider the possibility to file documents for registration once again,’ adds the head of the Assembly’s Working Group Siarhei Matskevich.

    He also reminded that it is already the second registration denial – the first one was given in 2002 (1,5 years after the application for registration). The Assembly has appealed against the first registration denial to the UN Human Rights Committee.

    What will Lukashenka ask Moscow for?

    From: Charter '97
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka is to pay a working visit to Russia where a meeting Patriarch Kirill is scheduled. It’s unknown whether Lukashenka will meet with representatives of the Russian authorities.

    The meeting will be held as developing the agreements reached by Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Patriarch Kirill in Sochi on March 25.

    It is the third visit of the Belarusian president to Russia for the last month: he met Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in Zavidovo residence near Moscow on March 19, the two presidents had talks in Sochi on March 21. On April 3, Lukashenka and Medvedev had a telephone conversation and discussed a possibility of an early meeting, BelaPAN reminds.

    It should be reminded that Lukashenka made a number of harsh remarks about Russia ahead of his visit to Moscow. He blamed the Russian side of failure to perform the agreements reached, including ones on mutual trade.

    “They don’t want us to entry their markets. We will look for other export directions,” the president said during his visit to the Homel region on April 7. “We’ll always be present at the Russian market, but we must develop other markets, too. The life is teaching us and makes us diversify export.”

    Lukashenka demanded the Belarusian government to “stop crawling on our knees” from one Russian office to another and begin looking for new directions of Belarusian products export. Moreover, he stressed, the Belarusian products have “normal quality”, they are competitive, having demand in different world regions.

    On April 9, during a meeting with governor of Russia’s Leningrad region Valery Serdyukov, Lukashenka said the Russian-Belarusian relations needed “more clarity and transparency”.

    It became known on the same day that minister of economic development of Russia Elvira Nabiulina signed a decree on access of 11 Belarusian industrial enterprises to the Russian state procurement market.

    “In the nearest time, in two or three days, the order must be registered by the Ministry of Justice of Russia, and it will take into force if approved,” vice premier of Belarus Andrei Kabyakou told journalists on April 9.

    According to him, the Belarusian side is to allow access to its state procurement market for nine Russian enterprises.

    Kabyakou said the agreements were reached at the meeting with first vice premier of Russia Igor Shuvalov on April 8. The negotiations would be continued in two weeks, the official added.

    He also said that it was agreed with Rosselkhozbank on crediting purchases of Belarusian agricultural machinery.

    Media: Patriarch Kirill won’t lobby dictator’s policy

    Independent experts say the Belarusian ruler won’t probably confine his visit to Moscow to talks with his Holiness.

    “It can’t be excluded that he will meet some high ranking officials by chance, moreover, president Medvedev, judging by Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s remarks on Thursday during a meeting with governor Serdyukov, asked why Russian TV channels were switched in Belarus,” politologist Alyaksandr Klaskouski told in an interview to “Zavtra Tvoei Strany”.

    Political observer Raman Yakauleuski notes that the new-elected Patriarch, unlike Alexi II, will hardly lobby Lukashenka’s interests in Moscow

    “The fact that former Archbishop of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, being now a Patriarch, is a political figure at the Russian political arena, is admitted by many people, political observer Raman Yakauleuski notes. “thus, it is a fact that his foreign policy is closely connected with the Russian authorities. The fact Lukashenka will have a meeting only with Patriarch demonstrates that Lukashenka’s relations with the ruling Russian tandem are becoming more and more difficult. Here another variant is possible: this meeting ahead of a possible meeting with Medvedev shows that Lukashenka wants to win support of Patriarch as an influential political figure.

    I don’t think Patriarch Kirill, unlike his predecessor Alexi II, will lobby issues related to Lukashenka’s policy in Russia. Lukashenka’s statements in Svetlahorsk in regard to Russia can’t promote brotherly atmosphere of his possible meeting with president Medvedev. Lukashenka, however, gave to understand he had claims not to the Kremlin, but to the Russian White House, to Putin. But Putin, in fact, rules Russia, though we are speaking about duumvirate.”

    According to the expert, a meeting of the Russian and Belarusian presidents may take place in the near future, for, “according to unofficial information, the Belarusian embassy in Moscow has been standing alert for three days because of the visit of Lukashenka, and this meeting is expected to happen this week.”

  • Around the Region...

    Israel selling reconnaissance drones to Russia

    From: Ha'arets
    Russia has signed a contract to purchase Israeli reconnaissance drones in an attempt to improve its own unmanned aircraft after a poor performance in the war against Georgia last August. The deal, the first-ever purchase announced by Russia of Israeli military hardware, was signed about three weeks ago by senior Israeli and Russian officials.

    Israel reportedly hopes the sale to Russia will help dissuade Russia from providing Iran with advanced missile systems.

    A delegation of Russian officials had earlier come to Israel to study the various manufacturers and visited Israel Aircraft Industries and the military electronics manufacturers Elbit Systems.

    The state-run RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Russia's deputy defense minister Vladimir Popovkin on Friday as saying: "I was in Israel and even operated one."

    The drones Russia purchased are of the mid-range Bird-Eye series, which can remain aloft for approximately five hours. The Russians chose the IAI system, although Georgia had used Elbit products for intelligence-gathering against the Russian army. The deal, worth about $50 million, includes three drones and their ground operations systems, spare parts and instruction, and an option to purchase additional drones.

    Israeli Defense Ministry officials approved the deal only after receiving assurances from the Pentagon that the U.S. did not oppose the deal, although the systems do not use American technology and are manufactured wholely in Israel.

    The approval represents a departure from Defense Ministry policy to make it very difficult for Israeli manufacturers to sell defense technology or weapons to Russia.

    According to the state-run ITAR-Tass news agency, Popovkin, who is in charge of procurement, joked Friday that Russia would work on the Israeli pilotless craft like the Chinese do - a suggestion that China uses military technology it acquires from other nations to improve its own capabilities.

    Israeli sources said the contract ensures that Russia will not reverse-engineer the drones to manufacture them itself. Israeli sources also said that one reason Israel agreed to the sale was the hope that in exchange Russia would not supply advanced weaponry to Iran, particularly anti-aircraft missiles.

    Iran is pressuring Russia to provide it with SS-300 missiles to protect its nuclear sites and other essential facilities in case of an Israeli or American attack. Although the Russians made no promises, it was intimated to Israeli officials that Russia would take no steps that would harm Israel's security.

    Georgian Leader Again Rebuffs Calls to Resign

    From: Washington Post
    Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Friday his government faced no threat from protests that gripped the capital for a second day, and he dismissed opposition leaders as unpopular and ineffective as they threatened an escalating campaign of civil disobedience until he gives up power.

    In a late-night interview after thousands of protesters blocked traffic on key roads and massed outside the presidential administration's offices, the U.S.-educated lawyer again rejected demands to step down and predicted that the demonstrations denouncing him as a dictator who mishandled last year's war with Russia would soon peter out.

    But even as he derided the protesters, Saakashvili also offered to enter into "profound and substantial" talks with the opposition on political reforms, including changes to the electoral code, measures to strengthen Parliament and the introduction of direct elections for Tbilisi's mayor next year.

    "We said we are willing to sit down and talk to them. We want them to become stakeholders," he said.

    Saakashvili indicated, however, that he did not expect opposition leaders to take up his offer. If some stepped forward, he said, they would come under attack by the others.

    "The problem is when you get into such a mess, it's always the radical one who prevails," he said. "It's a tragic situation because Georgia needs to get a bigger, more mature opposition.

    "It's a little bit scary to see some of these people," he added. "They basically are not poised for long-term cooperation or programs or some kind of vision."

    Opposition leaders reacted warily to Saakashvili's offer of dialogue, with some saying there was nothing to discuss except his resignation and others agreeing to hold talks only under certain conditions.

    Irakli Alasania, leader of the opposition Alliance for Georgia and a former ambassador to the United Nations, said he was willing to meet with Saakashvili only in the presence of independent figures "who enjoy public trust."

    Salome Zourabichvili, another opposition leader and a former foreign minister, said she would not back down from demands that Saakashvili give up power. "The only issue for this meeting will be his resignation," she said.

    Others demanded a public debate that would be broadcast to the nation. "Not a single person will dare go to that meeting if it is not aired live on television," said Levan Gachechiladze, a former presidential candidate.

    Saakashvili rejected the idea, saying, "It would be a circus and not an opportunity for serious negotiations."

    The number of protesters on the streets appeared to drop sharply, from more than 50,000 on Thursday to about 20,000 on Friday. But organizers called for a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience to ratchet up the pressure on Saakashvili, who came to power in 2004 after a similar wave of pro-democracy protests known as the Rose Revolution.

    Saakashvili dismissed the threat, saying the opposition lacked the popular support to pull it off, and he insisted he would serve out his full term, which ends in 2013. "Why would somebody resign every time some party wants him to?" he asked. "The point here is that we have to give everybody the right to protest, but we also have the duty to protect institutions."

    Opposition leaders vowed to block traffic in Tbilisi every day from 3 to 9 p.m. until Saakashvili resigns.

    On Friday night, protesters briefly occupied Rustaveli Avenue, the capital's main boulevard, as well as a road leading to the state television broadcaster, where they faced off against a row of police inside the building.

    Protesters also assembled outside the president's offices, where some threw cabbage and carrots. The opposition has called Saakashvili a rabbit, accusing him of cowardly behavior during the war, which ended with large pieces of Georgian territory under Russian control.

    Eka Tkeshelashvili, secretary of the Georgian National Security Council, said the government would continue to exercise restraint. "It doesn't matter how many or how few demonstrators there are," she said. "We are determined to listen to them and improve our performance so that their frustrations can be met."

    Tymoshenko, Putin to meet end-April - Ukraine govt

    From: Reuters
    Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is to meet her Russian opposite number, Vladimir Putin, later this month, the Ukrainian government said in a statement on Friday.

    But Russia said the date of any meeting had yet to be decided. "The final date is yet to be agreed," government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

    Relations between the two countries have been dogged by a series of disputes, especially over Russian gas supplies. A row over pricing and payment arrears in January cut off Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine for more than two weeks. It ended when Tymoshenko led negotiations to clinch a long-term supply deal.

    Both sides said the two prime ministers had spoken on Thursday. The Ukrainian statement said an intergovernmental committee on economic cooperation would meet after April 20.

    Tymoshenko, quoted by news agencies on a visit to central Ukraine, said differences between the two neighbours over how to modernise Ukraine's gas transport system had been resolved.

    Tymoshenko and Putin had been due to meet in Moscow at the beginning of April but Russia put off the talks after Moscow strongly objected to a Ukrainian plan to modernise its gas transport system together with the European Union.

    Tymoshenko, speaking in the central city of Dnipropetrovsk, was quoted as saying: "We have made it clear that we are partners in modernising the gas transport system. We believe the issue has been solved and we can carry on working."

    Russia angrily denounced a conference in Brussels last month devoted to modernising the Ukrainian system which sends Europe about 20 percent of its gas needs.

    Tymoshenko urged the EU to allocate $5.5 billion to improve the system rather than embark on expensive alternative routes bypassing Ukraine.

    Moscow said it had not been consulted on the plan, though Tymoshenko said Russia was welcome to take part in any programme of modernisation.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Pole faces jail for stealing toilet paper

    From: UPI
    Polish police arrested a 26-year-old man for stealing a toilet paper roll from a Warsaw restaurant, a crime that could cost him 10 years in jail.

    The man, identified only as Edvin L., stole the paper roll worth 66 cents but in taking it he broke the box holding the roll, making the total damage $105, the Polish daily Dziennik said. Police were called by a restaurant manager who spotted the man hiding something under his jacket.

    The daily said the man's theft was published on the Warsaw police Web site as one of their successful actions since January, adding his crime could lead to a prison sentence of 10 years.

    In response to a Dziennik reporter's query, a woman in the Warsaw police headquarters explained it was a serious crime, which apart from stealing the paper roll, included the breaking of the box containing the roll, the newspaper said.

    Foreigners pay Poles for marriage

    From: Polskie Radio
    Up to one in four of the 9,000 marriages between foreigners and Polish citizens every year could be bogus.

    In America and the UK it is common to see dubious adverts from foreigners looking for that special someone – in reality they are looking for citizenship, not love. But Poland has become a target for people from outside the EU looking to migrate from poorer regions of the world but denied entry because of strict immigration controls.

    “Registrars in Poland are helpless. They can’t refuse to marry anyone, even if they suspect a fraud,” explains Malgorzata Pyziak-Szafnicka from the University in Lodz, quoted in Rzeczpospolita.

    For a bogus marriage, a Pole can demand between 15,000 and 20,000 zlotys (3,350-4,500 euros). Most foreigners who are ready to pay for such ‘services’ come from Asian countries and the former USSR region.

    Rzeczpospolita gives the example of Olga M, a 27 year old Ukrainian who married 72 year old Aleksander J.. A divorce pertition was made after only two months, pointing to the failure to sexually consummate the marriage. Aleleksander, however, died before the divorce could come through.

    The price Poles can demand has risen in recent years as Poland is an attractive country for these sorts of marriages, particularly since the country joined the Schengen Zone, which means free movement for non-EU born citizens.

    The arrangement, however, can backfire, especially when the ‘spouse’ takes off out of the country without first getting a divorce.

    Polish rapist hiding in Ireland?

    From: The News
    British and Irish police believe a Polish man, on the run after being accused of taking part In brutal gang rapes 12 years ago, is in hiding in the Irish Republic.

    Police have released the photograph of Dawid Wysocki – also known as Andrzej Wysocki or Arthur Bryewiczis – and appealed to the general public for any information on the man’s whereabouts.

    Wysocki went on the run after being bailed at the Old Bailey court in London in 1996, after a 17 year old prostitute was taken to a flat in North London, imprisoned and raped by four men, one of which, she told police when she escaped, was the Pole. Two other men were imprisoned for the attack.

    Police say that Wysocki maybe in hiding among the large Polish community in the Portlaoise area, central Ireland on the road from Dublin to Cork.

  • Sport...

    Nikolai Chernyak of Belarus clinches gold at Europe’s Weightlifting Championships in Bucharest

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian Nikolai Chernyak clinched gold in the 77kg category at the European Weightlifting Championships in Bucharest, BelTA informs.

    The 20-year-old weightlifter pressed 344kg (155kg in the snatch plus 189kg in the clean and jerk). Erkand Qerimaj from Albania took silver with his total lift of 342kg (152+190), Russian Dmitry Ivanenko collected bronze – 341kg (156+185).

    Olympics 2008 bronze medalist Anastasiya Novikova (58kg) from Belarus won gold on April 5.

    On April 8, Sibel Simsek of Turkey took gold in the 63kg category lifting 108kg in the snatch and 128kg in the clean & jerk, reaching 236kg in the total. Belarusian Tatyana Stukalova took the ninth place with 197kg in the total (89+108).

    Seven Belarusian weightlifters are taking part in the competitions. On April 9, Nikolai Novikov will compete in the 85kg category. Belarusian Yulia Novakovich (75kg) and Mikhail Avdeyev (105kg) will show their best as well.

    The Romanian capital has gathered nearly 300 weightlifters from 35 countries. The competitions will end on April 12.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Bela Music-09 National Festival to be held May 23

    From: BelTA
    Bela Music-09 First National Festival will be held in the territory of the Borovaya Aeroclub not far away from Minsk on May 23, art leader of the project Oleg Khomenko told a press conference in Minsk on April 10. Taking part in the festival will leading Belarusian bands.

    The idea of the festival belongs to Oleg Khomenko, leader of Palats band. The founders of the festival of alive music are the Belarusian Culture Ministry, the Minsk Oblast Executive and the Minsk City Executive Committee. The festival is organized by the Sound Line Agency. Around 15,000 guests will be able to attend the festival. The tickets for a five-hour concert will be sold since April 23. The price will be around Br20,000.

    Taking part in the festival will be well-known Krama, Palats and also young bands such as Detidetei.

    The main goal of the festival is to create the basis for establishing the Belarusian national award in the field of pop and rock music, ensure the development of the national show business, promote the development of positive influence of modern music on cultural development of the youth and society.

  • Endnote...

    Lukashenko complaines: To Russia, the President is an idiot, and his children are insane

    From: Charter '97
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka was offended by Russian TV channels. “They have gone so far as to ‘chop’ a 5-year old boy all over with a meat-axe,” he complained to Leningrad region governor.

    The Belarusian leader believes that charges that Belarus has stopped broadcasting of a number of Russian TV channels at its territory groundless.

    “They are again hyping the topic that we have allegedly closed TV channels. NTV is working; ORT works on the same TV Channel with ONT. The channels that should be present, they are present, and they are broadcasted,” A. Lukashenka stated during the meeting with governor of Leningrad Oblast Valery Serdyukov, Interfax informs.

    The Belarusian leader noted: “try to name at least one our channels which is transmitted in Russia”. “We have created a satellite TV channel for providing economic interests of the two states. We have been allowed to enter some cable networks, and in Moscow we were demanded to pay 45 mln dollars, in order to be allowed to get into these networks,” he stated.

    Speaking about the situation around broadcasting of some Russian TV channels in Belarus, A. Lukashenka stated that in Russia different people started “flying at us, they reported to the Russian president that Lukashenka started an offensive against Russia”. “Nobody went on any offensive. I do not see any threat in that. We have agreed with the Russian president, that heads of administrations are to address these issues smartly,” A. Lukashenka said.

    And besides, as said by him, it turns out that “Belarus is not presented in the media space of Russia”.

    “And if it is presented there, then [they say] that the president is an idiot, and his children are insane, they are swindlers and adventurers. They have gone so far as to ‘chop’ this 5-year old boy (A. Lukashenka’s youngest son) all over with a meat-axe. Is it a right attitude to a leader of the state?” A. Lukashenka asked.

    “Have you heard at least one harsh epithet about Medvedev or Putin here? No. Even our oppositionists with frostbitten heads, when they start writing something (bad about Russia), we immediately crush that in the bud,” the Belarusian leader stated.

    Besides, he turned attention to the fact that “our certain activists, who hate guts Russia, open doors to Russian offices by their legs”.

    Lukashenka: “If somebody would say to you that I depart from Russia, spit in his face”

    The Belarusian ruler assured the governor of Leningrad Oblast Valery Serdyukov of his readiness “to defend our Russia”.

    “We need more definiteness and transparency in these relations. It is important for us, especially at this stage,” Lukashenka stated in Minsk.

    Addressing the Russian governor, Lukashenka noted: “If somebody would say to you that some tendencies have emerged in Belarus to depart from Russia, just spit in this person’s face, though it may sound rude”.

    The Belarusian leads assure that “we do not see our future without Russia; we are predestined to live with Russia”. “I want you to know that we would fight for our Russia, in order not to lose it. I think that Russia is not indifferent to Belarus’ fate, too,” he said.

    He noted that “everything takes shape in hard times. “If we would have sit to a round table in the framework of the former Union and specified how to cooperate, if we made Russian ruble the regional currency, then there would have been no crisis,” Lukashenka said.

    The Belarusian ruler stressed that “there are no opponents of our rapprochement, of our closest integration among the leadership of Belarus”. “If I make statements about the Belarusian-Russian relations, I am speaking explicitly about that. I stick to such a position both in the CIS and the EurAsEC, and especially in our bilateral relations,” Lukashenka noted.

    He believes that “we shouldn’t conceal anything from each other.” “If Russians can say about me in a non-public manner, I speak publicly about the problems that exist in our relations,” Lukashenka said.

    Commenting on the reports appeared in Russian media after his visit to Homel region, Lukashenka noted that “the greatest problem, which by the way contradicts the official policy of Russia, is that you have started to close your market”. Reminding the results of London G-20 summit, he stated that “in this period the twenty states shouldn’t close their markets and thus destroy the developing economies”.

    “If 80% of the world economy would be closed, including the Russian one, it would be difficult for such export-orientated states as Belarus,” Lukashenka noted.