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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lukashenko goes to Europe; Chernobyl, Schengen visas, Israel, Economic woes, Agriculture, Loans, War Games, Hockey championships and Polish scandals

  • From the Top...
  • #406

    Recovery of contaminated regions is top-priority task, President says

    From: BelTA
    The recovery of the contaminated regions is becoming a top-priority task, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said when visiting the town of Komarin, Bragin region on April 25.

    “We should put an end to the period of clean-up efforts on the territories affected by the Chernobyl disaster. We should stop suffering and complaining, we need to start a new period, a period of recovery. We need to take maximum efforts to revive this land,” the head of state said.

    According to the President, financing of all Chernobyl recovery programmes will be a priority. Number one issue is the safety of citizens. “There is no rush here. If we see that these lands cannot be recovered, then we will not do it,” he said. “But I hope that you, together with the people, will decide on the spot what land plots should be put to agricultural use,” the Belarusian leader added. He also urged to toughen control over the safety of foodstuffs made in these regions.

    Alexander Lukashenko also informed that in autumn he is going to give the assessment of the work of the regions which were affected by the Chernobyl disaster 23 years ago.

    An increased number of people came to the region last year. The majority of the arrivers were young people under 30. And this is a good indicator that these territories should be revived, the President believes.

    “It was painful to see burnt fields, once perfectly meliorated, abandoned villages, and well-farmed fields several kilometres away. This all, mixed together, created an unpleasant impression. Now we have approached to the issue of what to do with the villages once destroyed. I am not going to assess whether it was right to do so. We will see,” Alexander Lukashenko said. At the same time he stressed: “We need to restore this territory, we need to take every effort to do it. If we see that the radiological situation is normal in the region which was once abandoned, we will start developing it, provide gas services, build roads and water pipelines, launch housing construction there”.

    “We will finance any recovery project. But I stress: we should not hurry, we need to be sure how and where it is better to do it,” the President concluded.

    Belarus President urges self-sufficient Polesie economy

    It is necessary to create all conditions in the Polesie region to make its economy self-sufficient and enable proper living standards for the residents, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko during his working trip to the Gomel oblast on April 24.

    According to the presidential press service, around this time of the year the head of state visits Chernobyl-affected areas. This year the President got familiar with the state of things in the Gomel oblast where 18 out of the 21 regions have been affected by the Chernobyl disaster. In 2008 alone around Br700 was channelled into alleviating consequences of the disaster as part of a state programme. The total damage inflicted by the Chernobyl disaster in Belarus is estimated at 25 national budgets of the year 1996.

    Over the last few years major government investments and permanent attention to Chernobyl-related problems have borne tangible fruits. First of all, the measures have influenced the operation of agricultural producers. Thanks to a complex of protective measures meat and dairy products made in the region are now clean. Re-specialisation of agricultural companies based on scientific solutions allows fully using the potential of local land.

    The President remarked a lot is being done to bring this land into order, to ensure comfortable life of people who live there. Ensuring high effectiveness of Polesie economy is undoubtedly the most important goal yet to be achieved.

    “We will not abandon Polesie. It is a poor territory but we should gradually push it towards self-sufficiency, we should enable decent living standards for people here,” emphasised the President.

    According to the head of state, little funding will be required to advance the region to a proper level. “We are experienced in using little money to turn around any company,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

    In the Gomel oblast there are areas with a good tourism potential which should be used.

    The construction of modern brick factories was in the centre of attention when the President of Belarus visited the Loyev factory of building materials.

    Matters related to resource and energy saving, product quality as the vital components of the economic effectiveness of companies in modern financial and economic conditions were also considered along with the production of Belarusian building materials, export and import substitution, creation of additional jobs, development of small and medium towns.

    Alexander Lukashenko got familiar with the modern equipment and the technology used by the Loyev building materials factory to manufacture high-quality bricks. The company started operating in December 2008. It was built following an instruction of the President.

    Designed to manufacture ceramic wall materials, Belarus’ first domestic automated technological line, which meets main technological parameters of the best foreign competitors, has been installed. It was designed, manufactured and installed in less than two years. The technical documentation and the equipment were manufactured by the R&D centre Strommash.

    Now all the technological equipment has been commissioned and operates in an automatic mode. The quality of the first batch of products is unmatched in Belarus. Since early 2009 the enterprise has manufactured 1.4 million equivalent bricks. Tests of the manufactured products have confirmed their high physical and mechanical qualities (cold endurance, durability and low water absorption).

    The high-quality red bricks manufactured by the company will allow addressing the shortage of these products in the Gomel oblast and exporting them. As the oblast plans to increase housing construction, the creation of the contemporary brick manufacturing enterprise in Loyev is a very timely move. Besides, the operation of the new enterprise will give an additional boost to the Loyev region development.

    The President pointed out the fact that the new enterprise was built fast and on time. It is now important to reach the designed output capacity of 20 million equivalent bricks as fast as possible. The company administration believes the goal can be reached as early as in 2010. Company specialists told Alexander Lukashenko that some time is required to finely tune the new equipment.

    First Vice Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko believes a Belarusian brick factory may be built in Venezuela as an equivalent of the Loyev factory of building materials, with the throughput capacity increased by roughly 400%.

    The head of state also examined an exhibition of Belarus-made bricks and other ceramic wall materials made of clay.

    After that Alexander Lukashenko visited the Loyev coast guard division of the Gomel border guard regiment. The President got familiar with its material and technical equipment and organisation of the coast guard service.

    Alexander Lukashenko was informed about border guard precautions put in place along Belarus’ river borders, which are as long as 400 km. The Loyev coast guard unit protects the largest section, which is almost 180 km long. The unit not only guards the border but also protects Belarus-owned biological resources. In addition, the border guards control the radiation status in the designated area.

    The head of state got familiar with the operation of a mobile K9 team, radiometric labs, and the system of radiation control at the state border.

    On April 25 the President of Belarus will continue his working trip around regions of the Gomel oblast.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    EC representative in Belarus believes it is possible to reduce Schengen visa cost for Belarusians

    From: BelTA
    Jean-Eric Holzapfel, Charge d'affaires of the Delegation of the European Commission to Belarus, does not rule out a possibility of reducing Schengen visa cost for the Belarusians to ˆ35. The statement was made during the roundtable “EU Eastern Partnership: Prospects for Belarus” on April 22.

    According to the diplomat, in case Belarus’ full-fledged participation in the European good neighbourhood policy can lead to the agreement on the Schengen visa cost reduction.

    As for the Eastern Partnership, Jean-Eric Holzapfel stressed that the major aim of cooperation within the programme is a full cancellation of visas for the Belarusian people. “Today Belarusians pay ˆ60 for a visa although one of the priorities of the Eastern Partnership programme is the expansion of the people to people contacts. The agreement on visa regime simplification will become the first step to address the issue. The agreement will be signed only in case of Belarus’ full participation in the European good neighbourhood policy,” he said.

    On the whole, the Partnership promotes democracy, economic integration, energy security, people to people contacts. There are also four flagman initiatives: integration border government programme, new opportunities for small and medium-sized companies, cooperation in the energy area, prevention and readiness to respond to natural and humanitarian catastrophes. The diplomat stressed that Belarus can benefit from the participation in the Eastern Partnership as it entails all-round cooperation with all EU countries.

    Belarus, Israel plan to abolish visa requirements in 2010

    The visa requirements between Belarus and Israel is expected to be canceled in 2010, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to Belarus Eduard Shapira told reporters in Minsk on April 22.

    According to the Ambassador, in November 2008, Belarus and Israel had consular negotiations to consider the cancellation of the visa regime between the two countries. Israel and Russia had already canceled the visa regime between them. “At the first stage, Belarus and Israel intend to abolish consular fees. In 2010 or maybe earlier we will be able to cancel the visa regime,” the Ambassador said.

    Eduard Shapira noted that the cost of the Israeli visa is $17 for visitors from all countries and the cost of the Belarusian visa for Israeli citizens is more than $100. A year ago, the Israeli Government gave an instruction to develop the plan of action for cancellation of visa requirements with the CIS countries in order to develop tourism. The consular fees are expected to be abolished as well. “These are two different programmes which are not connected with each other. The consular fees are expected to be abolished in the next few months. At the same time, the visa programme for 2010 is being developed,” the Ambassador explained.

    Belarus-Israel relations focused on economic cooperation development

    From: BelTA
    The development of economic cooperation is the priority in relations between Belarus and Israel, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Israel to Belarus Eduard Shapira told a press conference in Minsk on April 22. The press conference was dedicated to the Israel Independence Day, BelTA has learnt.

    “Israel has no policy or instructions for the embassy in Belarus to suspend or somehow control the trade turnover. It is the main avenue of efforts of the embassy and the development of relations between Belarus and Israel. It is the top priority area which I am going to develop as the ambassador,” said the diplomat.

    According to the Ambassador, Belarus-Israel relations are developing in all areas, including politics, economy, culture and others. As far as economic cooperation is concerned, according to Israeli statistics in 2008 Belarus-Israel trade totalled $28 million while the figure amounted to $65 million according to Belarusian statistics. Israel takes into account the commodities directly supplied to Belarus while Belarus records commodities supplied from Israel, including those supplied via third countries, he explained.

    Eduard Shapira remarked it is very profitable to cooperate with Israeli businessmen. “Israelis are not so stubborn, they are more flexible and ready to travel to any part of the world. They travel to Belarus with pleasure, more so because there is virtually no language barrier,” he said.

    The diplomat underscored, now is not the time when government can tell business where to invest money. “Israeli businessmen will come to Belarus if it has good investment terms to offer, if the information is available to business circles. To make it happen, the governments of the two countries should create and are already creating the necessary legal base,” believes Eduard Shapira.

    In his words, the world financial crisis has affected neither Israel nor Belarus much. The economies of the two countries are export-oriented to a large extent and the interests coincide here. “We depend on investments and are supposed to make investments,” stressed the Ambassador.

    Among the main area of the economic cooperation development Eduard Shapira named high technologies, tourism, and agriculture. In particular, a major Israeli company is investing around ˆ550 million in building the Belarusian High-Tech Park. Next year Belarus and Israel plan to sign a tourism cooperation agreement.

    The Ambassador said, last year Israel welcomed 18,000 Belarusians, 70% more than in 2007.

    Union State parliamentarians to discuss tourist business

    From: BelTA
    A regular session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State will discuss the development of tourist business in the Union State. The session is expected to be held in the Krasnodar Territory on May 26-28.

    The main goal of the forthcoming session is to assist in developing the Belarus-Russia cooperation in tourism area, strengthen the cultural and economic regional relations of Belarus and Russia. Participants of the session will discuss the creation of the common tourist area, give recommendations regarding the joint promotion of the tourist product of the two countries on the international market.

    The participants of the session will analyze the situation in tourism during the global financial and economic crisis, discuss the issues concerning the training of personnel and the state support of inbound and domestic tourism.

    Attending the session will be deputies, heads of the Belarusian and Russian ministries, scientists, members of the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly.

    Session of Union State Council of Ministers scheduled for May 28

    A session of the Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State is expected to be held in Minsk on May 28, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told reporters. The Prime Minister is in the Bykhov region on a working trip.

    According to the Prime Minister, one of the key issues on the agenda will be the singing of a memorandum or a statement on the equal access of products of Belarusian and Russian manufacturers. This will be a supplementary document to the package of documents which were developed in January-February this year and approved by the Supreme State Council. “This will create equal conditions for Belarusian and Russian producers and equal access to the banking and consumer markets. We hope that there will be no administrative pressure in terms of export/import,” Sergei Sidorsky said.

    Spring crop sowing campaign completed in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    A sowing campaign of spring grain and leguminous crops was completed in Belarus by April 25, as planned, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

    According to specialists, the sowing campaign was held in optimum agronomical terms. Grain crops were sown on the area of 1,015.500 hectares. The Grodno, Gomel and Brest oblasts have beaten the target by 9%, 2.6% and 1.1% respectively. The Minsk oblast is finishing the field works, with 1.3% of the area left to be sown. The daily rate of the sowing campaign is about 5%.

    Spring crops were sown on the area of 1,394.000 hectares, which accounts for 60.2% of the plan. The highest rate is recorded in the Grodno oblast, with 67% of the areas sown already. The Gomel oblast has planted 61% of the areas, Minsk oblast 61.6%, Brest 60.4%, Mogilev 55.8%, Vitebsk 54.8%. The agriculture industry is expected to finish the sowing of spring crops by April 28, apart for thermophilic crops such as corn, buckwheat, soy and sunflowers.

    Spring barley has been planted on 518,500 hectares, or 98.6% of the target. The Brest, Vitebsk and Gomel oblasts have completed the sowing of spring barley.

    85,700 hectares have been allocated for brewer’s barley. Agricultural companies of the Gomel oblast have increased its brewer’s barley area by one fourth.

    Spring rape will be sown on 27,000 hectares what will meet the needs of the domestic market in oilseeds.

    Sugar beet has been planted on 72,200 hectares, 78.2% of the plan. The Grodno oblast has already sown 90% of the planned area. According to the Agriculture and Food Ministry, the sowing of sugar beet, potato and vegetables will be completed by May 7.

  • Economics...

    National Bank: Belarusian ruble will remain stable against basket of foreign currencies

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank’s exchange rate policy will be aimed at making the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble remain stable against the basket of foreign currencies, within the projected level, BelTA learnt from the information department of the National Bank. On April 24, the central bank held a session chaired by Chairman of the Board Piotr Prokopovich.

    This will allow preserving favourable conditions for foreign trade, stabilizing devaluation expectations on the part of the population and economic entities and reducing the demand for foreign currency. The interest rate policy will make ruble-denominated deposits more attractive and loans accessible.

    The work on preserving the stability of the banking sector will be another priority area. The banks will be focused on reducing credit risks, attracting people's resources into long-term deposits, strengthening financial discipline and raising foreign capital.

    The session considered the results of the main monetary policy guidelines of the Republic of Belarus in Q1 2009.

    The first quarter was a difficult period due to the negative trends in the global economy. As the national currencies of the main trading partners were devalued, and with a view to increasing the price competitiveness of Belarusian products, shoring up exports and reducing ineffective imports, on January 2 the Belarusian ruble was devalued to the level meeting the fundamental characteristics of the economy. To make the exchange rate policy more flexible, the National Bank started pegging the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to the basket of foreign currencies of the US dollar, euro and Russian ruble. In Q1 the Belarusian ruble remained stable.

    The exchange rate was aimed at helping Belarusian exports remain competitive in terms of price parameters. This offset, to some extent, the fall in the demand for domestic products abroad as foreign trade operations were made more effective for exporters. Devaluation expectations were eased, which, coupled with other measures, bore positively on the domestic currency market. This reduced the demand for foreign currency in the domestic market.

    The credit policy was aimed, as before, at making credits accessible to individual clients and economic entities. In January-March, the banking system provided Br15.7 trillion worth of lending. That was Br1.9 trillion up (13.9%) than in Q1 last year. Active credit policy of the banks offset foreign shocks caused by the global financial crisis and helped meet the goals of the socio-economic development forecast.

    In order to reduce the demand for foreign currency and make ruble-denominated deposits more attractive, deposit yield rate was increased. The average rate on new fixed-term deposits in the national currency was 18.8% in March. That was 3.6% up from December last year. The interest rates on new fixed-term ruble-denominated deposits were up 4.3% in March from December to 19.6% p.a.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Leader of Belarus pays visit to Italy

    From: Taipei times
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko is to end more than a decade of isolation by the West this weekend as he visits Italy and meets the Pope in the Vatican today.

    Long accused of crushing fundamental rights in his ex-Soviet republic, Lukashenko leaves for Rome today after receiving a series of signals that the West was now willing at least to talk to him, if not to embrace him openly.

    Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he would meet Lukashenko. The visit’s main feature will be an audience with Pope Benedict that the president hopes will help improve chilly relations between the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy and may lead to a meeting between their two leaders in Belarus.

    “Meeting the Pope as part of his first visit is clearly a good idea if only for the reason that the president can be certain that there will be no unpleasant surprises,” said analyst Alexander Klaskovsky. “Everything will be fitting and according to plan.”

    Lukashenko’s last official visit to a western country, France, dates back to 1995.

    Belarus was until last year criticized repeatedly in Washington and Brussels, and Lukashenko was banned from entering the EU on the grounds that he had rigged his re-election in 2006.

    The ban was suspended last year when the bloc noted improvements in Belarus’ record. Last week, Lukashenko secured an invitation to the EU’s May 7 “Eastern Partnership” summit in Prague aimed at providing support for six former Soviet republics and easing energy dependence on Moscow — though he is unlikely to attend himself.

    Lukashenko sees Belarus as bridge between East and West

    From: Ria Novosti, RFE/RL and Kiev Post
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, long shunned by the West as a dictator and eager for closer ties with Russia, said on Thursday his ex-Soviet state should become a bridge between East and West.

    Lukashenko has been handed an invitation for his country to attend an EU summit with ex-Soviet republics in Prague in May, ending years of diplomatic isolation for Belarus.

    The veteran Belarussian leader, who has battled with Russia over gas prices in the past two years, said in his state of the nation address that the invitation offered a balance.

    "It so happened that we have veered towards the East, we had no choice," said Lukashenko, whose country is in a loose union with Russia and who was the only member of the Belarussian parliament to oppose the 1991 treaty ending the Soviet Union. "It seems to me the West heard us at last and dialogue has started. It is just beginning." The Eastern Partnership, an EU project allowing integration with post-Soviet states without granting them full membership, gave Belarus a chance to improve ties with the West.

    Russia formally welcomed the invitation to Belarus, but in private, Russian officials have said they feared a drift away from Moscow would be a condition for winning seats in the Eastern Partnership. Russia has been alarmed by Lukashenko's staunch resistance to follow Moscow's lead and recognise Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

    The West has denounced Russia's brief war in Georgia last year and its recognition of the two regions. Lukashenko has denied media rumours that withholding recognition was a condition for joining the Eastern Partnership.

    However, Russia has put on hold a 100 billion rouble credit, requested by Lukashenko to help fight the economic crisis.

    In his address, Lukashenko moved to ease Russian fears.

    "We will not follow those who persuade us there is a dilemma between being with the East or the West," he said. "Our task is to become a bridge between the East and the West."

    "How can we stop cooperating with Russia today, give up Russia, as some Western hotheads demand?" Lukashenko said. "Historically we were one country."

    Lukashenko has not said yet whether he will attend the Prague summit. Commenting on Czech President Vaclav Klaus' threat to refuse to shake hands with him, the Belarus leader showed why he may be a tough partner for Europe.

    "The question is whether I want him to shake my hand," Lukashenko said

    Lukashenko tells U.S. sanctions will not work with Belarus

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday he hoped the new U.S. administration understood there was no future in using the "language of sanctions" to talk to Belarus.

    "I have repeatedly noted the importance of relations with the U.S. and hope that the new U.S. administration will realize the hopelessness of dialogue with us from the position of force and in the language of sanctions," Lukashenko said in his annual address to the Belarusian nation and parliament.

    "We have always said that we are interested in normalizing political relations with the U.S. and believe it is mutually beneficial to fully restore the level of trade-economic interaction, which prior to the imposition of sanctions neared $1 billion," he said.

    Washington imposed sanctions against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical concern Belneftekhim and froze assets of its U.S. subsidiary in 2007, adding to travel bans for and the freezing of assets of senior officials including Lukashenko introduced in 2006 over human rights abuses and a lack of democracy.

    The United States and the European Union, which also froze officials' assets but has eased the travel bans over recent improvements in the political climate in Belarus, have accused Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections.

    Belarusian President Says 'Enough' Political Liberalization

    Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an annual address to the National Assembly that Belarus's attempts to liberalize its economy have produced some real results, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    Lukashenka said, "We have done a lot in this direction [of liberalizing the economy]. We have lessened the tax pressure."

    But he warned that people must be aware "liberalization is not a one-time act," and said "some charlatans and boneheads" understand it as allowing them to do anything they want.

    Lukashenka said that is "a road to chaos."

    As for political liberalization, he said "we have had enough of it."

    Lukashenka added that Belarus is paying "the price of globalization" while also suffering from the global economic crisis.

    But he stressed that Western countries have themselves resorted to "economic regulatory measures," something which they had previously criticized Belarus for doing.

    Fears of EU split as 'last dictator' of Belarus is invited to summit

    From: Guardian
    An attempt by Europe to bring its "last dictator" in from the cold by inviting Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian president, to a summit of 27 EU government leaders could backfire by aggravating EU divisions, it was feared yesterday.

    Many European leaders are hoping that Lukashenko - who has been in power for 15 years, has been blacklisted by Brussels on account of his authoritarian rule and was until recently subject to a travel ban - will not take up the invitation to the Prague summit on 7 May.

    The summit is to launch the EU's new "eastern partnership" policy with six former Soviet bloc states, aimed at increasing Brussels' clout in the region at the expense of Moscow's.

    Lukashenko, head of the most isolated state in Europe, has been invited together with the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. The Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, delivered the invitation in person to Belarus's president in Minsk on Friday.

    Given Lukashenko's dismal human rights record, repression of the media and opposition, election rigging and the "disappearing" of opponents, the Prague invitation is stirring protest and has reignited arguments about whether it is better to isolate or engage unsavoury leaders.

    "How can you invite a dictator who remains a dictator?" asked Andrei Sannikov, a Belarussian opposition leader and former deputy foreign minister. "It's the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in Prague and to have Lukashenko there is a slap in the face."

    "It is clear that if Lukashenko comes to Prague it will be a big problem," said one EU ambassador in Brussels. "There are some member states with real concerns."

    But a senior Polish official said: "If Belarus is in the eastern partnership, you need to invite Lukashenko. There's no point talking to anyone else."

    European leaders such as Gordon Brown, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, may find themselves metaphorically holding their noses if the former communist collective farmer takes his place alongside them in Prague.

    In European capitals elaborate plans are already being hatched to try to avoid being spotted shaking hands or being photographed with the leader the US state department has dubbed Europe's last dictator and whose ubiquitous security service still proudly calls itself the KGB.

    The policy being launched in Prague is an attempt to use trade, travel and aid to forge greater integration between the EU and the former Soviet bloc states, while at the same time aiming to fob off the clamour from countries such as Ukraine and Georgia for full EU membership and seeking to counter Russian influence in what the Kremlin calls its "near abroad".

    "The message is that the EU is willing to engage with these countries, but not without conditions and caveats," said an EU diplomat. "We want to reach out in pursuit of our own interests. The pull of Russia there is part of the problem. If we don't engage, we won't be able to advance our own interests and we'll push them back into [Vladimir] Putin's orbit."

    The decision to invite Lukashenko has been preceded by months of intensive debate among EU governments over how to treat Europe's sole pariah president. Lukashenko and dozens of regime cronies were placed on an EU travel blacklist for rigging elections in 2006, but the entry ban was suspended for the second time last month, meaning that he is free to take up the invitation to Prague.

    The Dutch and the Swedes have been the biggest opponents of inviting Lukashenko, while the Germans, Poles and Italians have been strongest in arguing for engaging Minsk. Lukashenko will score a new coup later this month by exploiting the lifting of the travel ban and going to Rome, where he is to be received by the Pope.

    "My understanding is he's not going to come to the summit," said the Brussels diplomat, reflecting the widespread wish that Lukashenko stay away to avoid embarrassment for all.

    "Let's hope the question will not arise. We don't like what we see in Belarus," said the ambassador. Another west European diplomat did not rule out some boycotts of the Prague summit if the Belarus leader confirms his attendance.

    Belarus Government Increases Import Tarriffs

    From: NASDAQ
    Belarus hiked up import tariffs in a bid to support local producers, a presidential decree published Thursday said.

    "Higher import tariffs were set as part of measures aimed at supporting our local producers," the decree read.

    Tariffs on refrigerators were set at 25% of customs value, 30% for vacuum cleaners and DVD players, 40% for television sets, up to 30% for some foodstuffs including wine, and 25% on clothes.

    According to official figures, some two months' worth of local produce in cars and textiles remained unsold.

  • From the Opposition...

    European Union lays down conditions for Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    Belarus would be able to take part only in multilateral projects in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, the new policy of the European Union, as there is no bilateral part still.

    Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, stated that at a press-conference in Brussels on April 23, BelaPAN informs.

    Benita Ferrero-Waldner reminded that “Belarus itself had expressed a wish of rapprochement with the EU. We are open and we hope for progress <…>, that we would be able to cooperate with the authorities of Belarus in the future,” the EU commissioner said.

    As said by her, the EU interacts with Belarusian NGOs and mass media. The European Commission started consultations with official representatives in certain spheres: transport, energy, climate changes.

    The European Commissioner has noted that the full membership in the Eastern partnership program for Belarus “remains open, but certain conditions are to be fulfilled for that”. “You all know about the 5 recommendations we have done for Belarus,” Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

    As we have informed, in October 2008 the EU chose 5 recommendations as a basis for normalizing relations with Belarus out of 12: electoral laws reform, freedom of associations, creating conditions for NGO activities, freedom of press and lifting restrictions from freedom of person.

    In February new political prisoners appeared in Belarus: leaders of entrepreneurs’ movement Mikalay Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka.

    Other young people - Alyaksei Bondar, Maxim Dashuk, Alyaksandr Barazenka, Artsyom Dubski, Mikhal Kryvau, Mikhal Pashkevich, Ales Straltsou, Ales Charnyshou, Tatsyana Tsishkevich, Mikhail Subach and Paval Vinahradau are sentenced to restriction of freedom for participation in oppositional rallies.

    In March a human rights activist Yana Palyakova committed suicide. She had been sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment.

    Opposition rallies are cracked down upon by policemen with the use of force as before. Democrats still do not have an access to state-run mass media, and most independent newspapers still cannot be published and distributed on the territory of Belarus.

    Supreme Court turns down claim by Nasha Viasna

    From: Viasna
    On 22 April the Supreme Court of Belarus turned down the complaint by the founders of the Nasha Viasna human rights organization.

    Judge Ihar Milto found the decision by the Ministry of Justice legal due to certain procedural violations, including inaccuracies in the founders’ lists and the organization’s Charter.

    Besides, state duty payment receipt lacked the name of the NGO. All other arguments of the Ministry of Justice were found legally invalid.

    The court stressed that the above-mentioned flaws could not be corrected within the period of registration since the postponement of registration is not the duty but the right of the registration authority.

    The Supreme Court also turned down the arguments by the Ministry claiming that Nasha Viasna’s constituent congress had been held with certain violations.

    One of the founders of Nasha Viasna Valiantsin Stefanovich declared that ‘the human rights activists do not agree with the decision by the Supreme Court and are going to appeal it in the exercise of the supervisory power of Chair of the Supreme Court.’

    ‘We do not agree with the decision since Paragraph 3 of Article 15 of the Law on Public Associations provides an exact and comprehensive list of grounds for possible refusal to register a public association. During the application for registration of Nasha Viasna these points were not violated. Thus, the registration authority should have granted a delay for the correction of the above-mentioned drawbacks.’

    Valiantsin Stefanovich also said that Nasha Viasna was going to apply for registration for a third time this week. In case of another refusal, the human rights activists are going to stop addressing the Ministry of Justice. ‘If the state represented by the Ministry of Justice is not ready, does not want or cannot register human rights NGOs, it will be a problem for the state itself. We can perform human rights activities without official registration.

    It is our legal right, guaranteed by the Constitution and the international human rights standards,’ said Mr.Stefanovich.

    Nasha Viasna to apply for registration for the last time

    On 25 April the founders of the Nasha Viasna human rights organization are going to apply to the Ministry of Justice for registration for a third time. At the same time, they stress that this attempt will be the last, even in case the application is turned down again.

    ‘If the state represented by the Ministry of Justice is not ready, does not want or cannot register human rights NGOs, it will be a problem for the state itself. We can perform human rights activities without official registration. It is our legal right, guaranteed by the Constitution and the international human rights standards,’ said the human rights activist and one of Nasha Viasna’s co-founders Valiantsin Stefanovich.

  • Around the Region...

    Ukraine marks Chernobyl's 23rd anniversary

    From: AFP
    Ukraine paid homage to victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe 23 years after the worst nuclear accident in history.

    "Today we remember with profound sadness those heroes who fought against the nuclear storm and sacrificed themselves for us and our children," President Viktor Yushchenko said in an address published by his press service.

    Some 100 Ukrainians, including Yushchenko and other top officials, laid wreaths overnight before the monument to Chernobyl's victims in Kiev and lit candles during a religious service dedicated to the tragedy, an AFP photographer reported.

    The "liquidators" -- men who took part in cleaning the site after the catastrophe -- in their turn wound a long fir-tree wreath around the monument, many unable to keep back tears.

    In Slavutich, a small town 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the accident's site where many of the power station's personnel used to live, the night vigil gathered many hundreds who brought flowers and candles to the Chernobyl victims' monument, according to another AFP photographer.

    The disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 at 1:23 a.m., when one of the reactors exploded -- contaminating the Soviet states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with the fallout also spreading to other parts of Europe.

    Over 25,000 people known as "liquidators" -- most of them Ukrainians, Russians and Belarussians -- died getting the accident under control and constructing a concrete shield over the wreckage, according to Ukrainian official figures.

    A United Nations toll published in September 2005 set the number of victims at just 4,000, a figure challenged by non-governmental organisations.

    In Ukraine alone, 2.3 million people are designated officially as "having suffered from the catastrophe."

    Some 4,400 Ukrainians, children or adolescents at the time of the accident, have undergone operations for thyroid cancer, the most common consequence of radiation, the health ministry says.

    Chernobyl nuclear power station was finally closed in 2000 after one reactor had continued producing electricity.

    But the dead power station remains a threat because the concrete cover laid over 200 tonnes of magma, consisting of radioactive fuel, is cracking.

    A new steel sarcophagus is due to cover the seal hurriedly flung over the reactor in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

    Internationally funded construction of the new steel cover is due to be launched this year or early next year and completed by 2012 by the Novarka consortium including France's Bouygues and Vinci companies.

    Russian attack aircraft to join military drills in Kyrgyzstan

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russian Su-25 Frogfoot close air support aircraft will take part on Saturday in the active phase of the military exercises conducted by Kyrgyzstan's Armed Forces, the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry said.

    Kyrgyzstan is holding Security-2009 tactical exercises in the south of the country, which involve over 500 servicemen, armored vehicles self-propelled artillery and aircraft. The exercises with live-firing drills are aimed at practicing counterterrorism operations.

    "A flight of Su-25 attack aircraft from the Kant airbase and Kyrgyz Air Force Mi-24 helicopters will provide aerial fire support during the drills, the ministry said in a statement.

    The Russian base in Kant, about 20 miles west of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, was established in October 2003, and currently deploys about 400 troops, including 250 officers and NCOs and 150 conscripts, as well as several Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircraft and Su-27 Flanker fighters, two Mi-8 combat transport helicopters, and four L-39 combat trainers.

    The 2003 bilateral agreement between Russia and Kyrgyzstan stipulates the presence of the Kant air base in the Central Asian republic for 15 years with an automatic extension every five years after the expiration of the original term.

    The Kant base is intended to provide air cover for possible operations by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) joint forces in Central Asia.

    The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

    Earlier this year, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev issued a decree to close the only U.S. base in Central Asia, located at Manas international airport near the capital, Bishkek, following talks in Moscow when he reportedly secured more than $2 billion in aid and loans.

    Both Russia and Kyrgyzstan have denied any link between the aid deal and the closure of the U.S. base.

    Yuschenko Requests Rada To Allow Deploying Foreign Military For Military Manoeuvres In Ukraine

    From: FinChannel
    President Viktor Yuschenko wants the Verkhovna Rada to allow deploying foreign military forces in Ukraine for multinational manoeuvres to be held in 2009, draft bill No 4412 registered at the Verkhovna Rada on April 24, states.

    In particular, the bill on approving president's decision to allow military forces of foreign countries to deploy in Ukraine for multinational military manoeuvres envisages deployment of Serbian military (within the framework of Ukrainian -Serbian military training exercises), US military (within the framework of military training exercises of Ukrainian -US special purpose units and Combined-Effort-2009 exercises), military of the Partnership for Peace Program member states within the framework of Ukrainian -US Sea Breeze-2009 and Rapid Trident-2009 military training exercises.

    The bill proposes deploying military forces of Belarus, Poland, Great Britain and Northern Island in Ukraine within the multinational manoeuvres Cossack Steppe-2009; military forces of Slovakia within Ukrainian -Slovakian military training exercises Slavs for Peace-2009; of Romania within Ukrainian -Romanian military training exercises; of Canada, Lithuania and Poland within Ukrainian -Canadian-Lithuanian-Polish Maple Arch-2009 military training exercises.

    The bill also suggests deploying Bulgarian, Georgian, Russian, Romanian and Turkish military within the framework of naval maneuvers Trust-2009; Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish military within Ukrainian -Belarussian-Lithuanian-Polish military exercises.

    As Ukrainian News reported, Yuschenko issued a decree on January 23 approving a plan for multinational military training exercises in 2009.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Reputation of Polish Police Force at stake?

    From: Polskie Radia
    The Polish Central Investigative Agency has busted a gang involving three anti-terrorist police officers, in Lodz, central Poland. The ongoing investigation has attracted the attention of some media and a debate has been sparked on how corrupted the Polish law enforcement can be, and should citizens stop to trust it.

    Click on the audio icon to listen to the report by Joanna Najfeld

    Allegedly, three police officers of the Lodz anti-terrorist brigade, worked for a gang after hours. Reportedly, their motive was low wages at the police, as well as... boredom. Perfectly trained functionaries just did not have much to do in their job. So they started making additional money as bodyguards at mafia-run establishments. Later, they were to terrorize owners of night clubs and force them to employ gang members as bodyguards. This, in turn, made it possible to control drug dealing on the spot, monopolizing the market. Occasionally, they would let the police arrest dealers working for their competition.

    The group was finally busted, and the presence of three police functionaries has been publicized as a scandal. It was police officers who cleared their ranks of unworthy functionaries, explains Mariusz Sokolowski, spokesman of the Polish Police. There is no reason why these three individual cases of arrested criminals should damage the reputation of a one hundred thousand-strong Polish Police force, especially now that they face justice, he says. Wojciech Kulesza, social psychologist and professor at the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities says that once the media debate calms down, the public perception of the police should get back to normal.

    Not so much corruption scandals, but general inefficiency bother Polish society more, according to the recent opinion poll, commissioned by the Polish Police Headquarters. One third of the respondents say they refrained from reporting a crime to the police, because they judged it was not serious. One in four said they did not believe the culprit would be caught. Ten percent preferred to take the matter in their own hands. Forty percent were satisfied with the service they received from the police. More or less the same number had complaints, mostly about the inefficiency - culprits were not caught and stolen property never restored. 17% of respondents complained about rude police officers and over twice that number thought the procedures took too much time.

    Only one percent of ex-pats register for Euro elections

    From: The news
    Only 313 foreigners have registered to vote in Poland for the European Parliament this June, can reveal.

    According to Polish and EU election law, the right to elect MEPs belongs to every foreigner above the age of 18, is a citizen of a EU member state and has voting rights in his home country, is a permanent resident of the Republic of Poland and is registered to vote.

    EU citizens are also able to vote in Polish local government elections.

    The main obstacle seems to getting more foreigners involved in the elections seems to be a fear of red tape. To enroll, foreigners have to submit a special form in a commune office at his or her place of residence. The form can be found on the National Electoral Office web site.

    In many other countries in the EU, if you have permanent residency then you are automatically eligible to vote.

    Out of more than 10.000 EU citizens who have permanent residency in Poland, only one percent of them usually vote in either European or local elections. That ratio would be even lower if we included those foreigners who do not apply for permanent residency.

    But can foreigners still be registered to vote in the elections this summer?

    “The deadline passed on April 9th 2009,” Lech Gejzler from National Electoral Commission told “But those who submit their names now can be sure that they will be on the list for the next election.”

    Teens prostitute themselves for brand clothes

    From: The News
    Twenty percent of teenage prostitutes in Poland sell their body in order to earn money for brand clothes, concert tickets or holiday, shows a report commissioned by Poland’s Children Ombudsman’s Office.

    The shocking report reveals that the number of teenagers who become prostitutes is growing and the age of teen prostitutes is coming down. Girls usually enter the sex business at the age of fifteen to sixteen. Boys also go on the streets as early as fourteen or fifteen.

    Twenty percent do it on their own free will. They choose to sell their bodies in order to earn money for brand clothes, fashionable gadgets or concert tickets. Material goods help them gain respect of their peers. “Young people feel they need to attend trendy clubs, wear brand clothes and have enough money for expensive alcohol and cigarettes in order to be accepted,” said Jacek Kurzepa, the co-author of the report.

    Another reason why teenagers decide to enter sex business is the desire to earn money easily and quickly. It is a particularly tempting option for those who collect money for holidays, pets or tickets to all kinds of music and sports events, because it saves time. There is also a group of teenagers who prostitute themselves just for a thrill, to taste a forbidden fruit, says the report.

    Prostitution is not perceived as bad or even shameful by many teenagers, the report shows. Young people, instead of calling prostitution by its name, use the term “sponsoring”, which softens its true meaning. For some, teenagers those who have a sponsor can even be role models.

    It is becoming easier for teenagers to enter the sex trade nowadays than it was several years ago. Young people do not need to sell their bodies on the street. All they need is a computer with internet access, where they can find sex ads and place their own offers. Some of the teenagers are encouraged to prostitute themselves by their friends who already are in the business. “Twenty- or thirty-years-olds become prostitutes because they have to pay for studies or need money for their children. Teenagers sell their bodies in order to have fun,” said a sex agency owner.

    Young people who choose prostitution as their source of income, a bonus to their pocket money, do not realize the real cost of it. In Poland there are not enough institutions or organizations which could help teenagers permanently free themselves from sex work, when they decide to, says the report. Even police are rather helpless when it comes to investigating consensual teenage sex cases since neither a client, nor a teen prostitute want their business to be revealed.

  • Sport...

    Canada blasts Belarus 6-1 to open hockey worlds

    From: Vancuver Sun
    Belarus head coach Glen Hanlon can be a very funny man.

    But the Vancouver resident was dead serious when he told his players about a new dress code, prior to facing Team Canada on Friday at the 2009 world hockey championship.

    "People said, 'Well, what's the dress code?' I said, I don't care what you wear, but you can't wear Hockey Canada stuff.

    "We're going to games and they've got Hockey Canada hats on, Hockey Canada shirts. And I go … we're trying to beat these guys … leave your Hockey Canada stuff at home

    "I'm sure (Hockey Canada president) Bob Nicholson's happy that they're buying it — it helps pay his big salary."

    Even without the fawning souvenir gear, the Belarus national team retains a high degree of awe around the Canadians. That was evident in Canada's routine 6-1 victory Friday in the first tournament game for either team. To the credit of coach Hanlon, Belarus tries to play a more open style, away from the stifling survival game of the past.

    Canada got two first-period goals from Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Steve Stamkos, and a trio of Ottawa Senators forwards completed the scoring with four third-period goals. Dany Heatley had two, while Jason Spezza and Mike Fisher scored one each.

    Belarus might have made it a little more interesting, had an apparent first-period goal by Mikhail Grabosvki of the Toronto Maple Leafs not been called back. Trailing 2-0, Belarus was excited about Grabovski's goal into a wide-open net, but after video review, the goal was disallowed because Canadian goaltender Dwayne Roloson had knocked the net off as he tried to return to his goal crease from behind the net.

    "The puck got caught on the ledge," said Roloson, explaining his troubled journey behind the goal. The puck got away from him and onto Grabovksi's stick.

    "I wasn't trying to knock the net off," Roloson said. "I was just trying to get out front."

    Late in the third period, with the shutout the only outcome in doubt, Grabovski spoiled Roloson's bid by driving home a rebound on a Ruslan Salei shot. Canada's goaltender, the Edmonton Oilers MVP this season, said he didn't care about losing the shutout.

    "As long as we win, that's all that matters to me," said Roloson, at 39 the oldest on Canada's roster. "If it's 11-10, who cares?"

    Offensively, the Canadians were led by one player, Heatley, who scores goals in this tournament the way Belarus players collect souvenirs, and by another, Stamkos, getting his first taste of the event.

    Heatley now has 34 goals in 44 world championship games, easily the most by any Canadian since NHL players started going to the worlds in 1977. Spezza assisted on both Heatley goals. With three points, Spezza just matched his point total at the entire 2008 tournament.

    "He knows where I'm gonna be," Heatley said. "It's kind of what we do at home."

    Stamkos, 19, the 2008 first overall draft choice, suffered from being overhyped last fall by the Lightning. But he shows every sign of completing his second-half rebound in Tampa with a strong tournament in Switzerland.

    While his gifted hands are obvious — both goals involved redirects of a pass and a shot — head coach Lindy Ruff says he's been just impressed with Stamkos speed.

    Media couldn't help but notice the kid's poise in the mixed zone, as well.

    "It wasn't too hard," he said of his two goals, while talking to Canadian reporters. "I think a couple of you guys could've scored them.

    "It was just going to the net, putting your stick on the ice … I was pretty fortunate to get some nice passes."

    Martin St. Louis, the Stamkos linemate and mentor with the Lightning, set up up the first goal beautifully, as Stamkos converted the crease pass by driving the far post.

    Though small in stature, St. Louis has been huge for Stamkos this season. On the bench, he would talk over mistakes while they were fresh. On the road, or in the dressing room, he would lift the rookie's spirits when frustration about his season might have crept in.

    "He's a veteran of this team and he's one of the best players in the league," Stamkos says of St. Louis. "He's won at all levels. He's won a Hart Trophy. His play speaks for itself. He's probably second to none in his work ethic. And second to none in his skill set."

    "He's an unbelievable player and that rubs off on me, especially as a young guy."

    St. Louis believes the sky is the limit for Stamkos, though he doesn't want to put any label on what kind of player he might be.

    "He'll decide where he takes his game."

    Give Hanlon, the Belarus coach, the last word on Stamkos.

    "He could make our team."

  • Endnote...

    Belarus will come out of crisis even stronger, President says

    From: BelTA
    The state will do its utmost so that we would survive all the hardships and become even stronger and united than before, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he delivered the State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly. The main theme of the Address is “Wellbeing of the native land depends on everyone and all”.

    The head of state said that without any turmoil and social tensions, in a relatively short period of time, the Belarusian people have built a full-fledged and independent state, the Republic of Belarus, which is respected and reckoned with in the world. There are no antagonistical contradictions in the state, economic and spiritual life in Belarus. This, in turn, creates necessary basis for further confident progress.

    The President stressed that “whatever the skeptics and opponents would say, our achievements are the result of our own path of development based on the principles of effective economic regulation and strong social policy. Therefore the conceptual task today is to make sure that the processes of intensive socio-economic development should become irreversible, become a stable tendency,” he said.

    According to him, the difficult period, the global economy is going through today and Belarus as well, will not be over soon. Therefore, all will have to work much and hard to promote further development of the country capable of ensuring the conditions for safe, stable and happy life. The President believes that today’s difficult period gives a unique chance to get rid of everything unnecessary that hampers sustainable development. This time should be used for a crucial breakthrough in all areas. “Although the crisis started thousands of kilometers away from us, away from Europe, it has made an impact on Belarus as well. This is the price of globalization and integration into the world economy. We need to be sincere and fair in how we see our country in the future. We cherish the trust our people put in us and will never deceive them and turn our back on them during the most difficult time,” the head of state said.

    “In our state we are one big family where the country’s power and prosperity depend on everyone’s efforts, knowledge and responsibility. One needs to understand a simple thing: even the most ambitious plans will remain on paper if the society is apathetic and indifferent. Today no one has the right for complacency or for adjusting to the situation. In an atmosphere of trust and cooperation between the authorities and the society, we will be able to weather the consequences of the crisis,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed.

    At the same time the President has warned all those who are not attributing any importance to the present situation or trying to use it in their own interests: “All means will be used to secure law and order in the country, ensure stability of constitutional rights”.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that the unity of the Belarusian people is a huge advantage. Everyone should be responsible for the wellbeing of the native land.