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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lukashenko meets Pope, Prague Summit, Russian relations, Economics, Hockey championships, Vogue fashions, Chernobyl, Ukraine and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #407

    Alexander Lukashenko meets with Pope Benedict XVI

    From: BelTA
    A one-on-one meeting between President Alexander Lukashenko and Pope of Rome Benedict XVI has started in the Papal Library of the Apostolic Palace.

    While greeting Pope Benedict XVI, Alexander Lukashenko said it was a great pleasure for him to meet the Pope. “Our meeting is long overdue. But finally we have met,” he said.

    The President of Belarus arrived to the Court of Honour in the Apostolic Palace of Vatican where he was welcomed by Prefect of the Holy See and given a Guard of Honour. Accompanied by the Prefect, Alexander Lukashenko entered the Apostolic Palace. On the way to the Papal Library the Belarusian official delegation went through an enfilade of eleven rooms. At the entry to the library, in the Small Throne Room, the President was welcomed by the Pope. The Belarusian President and the Pontiff exchanged greetings and proceeded to the library for a one-on-one meeting.

    President Alexander Lukashenko has extended an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit Belarus.

    “If you find time, we will meet on the Belarusian land, God willing,” the head of state said.

    The meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and the Pope was held in the Papal Library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City. The President and the Pontiff exchanged presents. The Pope gave a souvenir coin and Alexander Lukashenko an icon made by a Belarusian artist.

    The President is now meeting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has proposed holding a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. This topic was raised on April 27 during a meeting with the Pontiff, Alexander Lukashenko told reporters.

    “During the meeting I said that now we have a unique chance to bring closer the positions, to have the Pope and the Patriarch meet at the top level and discuss common problems. If such a meeting takes place, let it be in Belarus, as Belarus is not just the center of Europe, but a country where the two confessions, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, coexist,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Belarus, Vatican plan to sign cooperation agreement

    Belarus and Vatican plan to sign a cooperation agreement. This issue was discussed during a meeting between President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, according to Sergei Aleinik, Deputy Foreign Minister, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to the Holy See.

    According to him, the sides expressed mutual interest in boosting cooperation in science, culture, archival and library areas.

    Tarcisio Bertone expressed satisfaction with way the bilateral cooperation between Belarus and Vatican was developing and thanked the President for the assistance to the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus.

    Belarusian President sees no problems with adoption of Belarusian children by Italian families

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he did not see any problems with adoption of Belarusian children by Italian families.

    “We will be happy to see our children adopted by decent families. We want every child to know that he or she is a citizen. The state keeps a close eye on the families who have adopted children, and not only in Italy,” said the President.

    This issue was discussed by President Alexander Lukashenko and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi during their meeting. “He was surprised to know that there can be any problems here at all. We just toughened the adoption legislation in Belarus,” said the Belarusian leader.

    He added that Belarusians would be happy if Italian families would want to adopt and accommodate Belarusian children.

    Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy may visit Belarus as soon as this autumn, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told the media as he summed up the results of his visit to Italy.

    The Belarusian president added that Silvio Berlusconi said he was ready to visit Belarus in the near future and continue the dialogue they started. “I think this will happen as soon as this autumn. But we will negotiate the date in advance,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the President, a wide range of issued were discussed during the meeting with the Italian Premier. These were the impact of the global financial and economic crisis on the economies, economic problems in general, investment cooperation and the situation around the Russian-Georgian conflict.

    Alexander Lukashenko thanked the Italian side for its position on Belarus. “They are discovering a new Belarus,” he added.

    Visit to Vatican demonstrates Belarus' open policy towards interaction with major denominations

    The Belarusian President’s visit to Vatican shows the open and substantive policy of the Belarusian government, aimed towards interaction with the major traditional denominations in Belarus, said Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.

    “The policy aiming to promote relations with the Christian religion, including both its Orthodox and Roman Catholic branches, is a critical component of the social life in Belarus. In this respect, the meeting of the President of Belarus with Pope Benedict XVI is a truly historic event, with no exaggerations,” said Sergei Martynov.

    The meeting aroused a great mutual interest and lasted longer than scheduled, he added. “We are now working to promote the bilateral relationship in the cultural and historical fields, as well as in science,” he said.

    According to Sergei Marynov, Vatican praises the uniqueness of constructive good relations between the Catholicism and Orthodoxy in Belarus. “The sides hope Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Vatican will be very helpful in furthering the relations between the state and the Roman Catholic confession, and fostering moral and civil values,” the minister said.

    For his part, Deputy Foreign Minister, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to the Holy See, Sergei Aleinik believes that the visit to Vatican can be called historic, without any exaggerations. The meeting is a logical continuation of the domestic and foreign policy of the Belarusian state. From the viewpoint of domestic policy, this is a course aimed to strengthen the inter-confessional peace. From the viewpoint of foreign policy, this is a continuation of a political dialogue and diplomatic interaction between Belarus and Vatican, which raises it to the highest level.

  • 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.

    Who will represent Belarus at Prague summit will be decided soon, President says

    From: BelTA
    Who will represent Belarus at the Prague summit will be decided in the near future, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in Rome.

    “I would ask not to give much importance as to who will go to the summit. We will take the decision soon,” the President said.

    “If someone is uncomfortable about Lukashenko’s attending the summit, then he will not be there,’ he noted.

    The Belarusian president added that Silvio Berlusconi “is looking forward to seeing me in Prague”.

    No unity among Belarus MPs on Abkhazia, S.Ossetia recognition, President says

    There is no unity among Belarusian parliament members on the issue of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, said President Alexander Lukashenko in Rome.

    “I absolutely agree with what the Speaker of the Lower House of the Belarusian parliament said. We do not keep it secret. Today the issue of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is being discussed in the parliament. We are far from complete unity on this issue,” said the Belarusian leader.

    The Government and the Foreign Ministry have been working hard with the parliament on promoting unity on this issue, according to the President.

    Belarus views anti-corruption efforts as priority

    From: BelTA
    The General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus views the anti-corruption fight as a priority area which is critical for ensuring legality in the country. The statement was made at a joint session of the General Prosecutor’s Offices of Belarus and Russia in Moscow on April 27. Attending the session were chiefs of the agencies Grigory Vasilevich and Yury Chaika.

    The session discussed legality and procuracy control over enforcement of anti-corruption legislation in the two countries.

    The anti-corruption policy in Belarus is implemented in accordance with the legislation through organisational, preventive and other measures. The procuracy bodies of Belarus monitor the efficiency of preventive measures and anti-corruption efforts.

    In 2008, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Belarus prepared proposals to improve anti-corruption legislation, which identifies a system of measures and principles to counteract corruption. The measures have been taken to eliminate the consequences of corruption-related crimes, to elaborate common approaches to criminal responsibility for corruption crimes. Yet, as it was noted at the session, penetrating into various areas of economy and society and acquiring new criminal characteristics, corruption remains a destructive force that threatens the social and economic development of the state and its national security.

  • Economics...

    Belarusian company Polimaster to supply radiation-monitoring instruments to USA

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian company Polimaster has won the tender to supply radiation-monitoring instruments to emergency response services of Illinois, the USA. Within several years 20,000 devices will be supplied to the USA, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko was told during his visit to the coast guard unit Loyev of the Gomel border guard regiment on April 24. The regiment uses Polimaster-made radiation-monitoring instruments, too.

    Polimaster’s stationary radiation-monitoring systems are used in 16 ports of Japan.

    The company has been promoting innovative technologies for detecting radioactive and nuclear materials since 1992. Polimaster offers the full range of services from design and manufacturing of radiation-monitoring instruments to technical support for products used by manufacturers.

    Polimaster equipment is used to prevent unauthorised transportation of radioactive and nuclear materials via state and customs borders. It is also used to ensure security and counteract terrorist attacks, which utilise radioactive materials. Polimaster instruments are used to ensure radiation safety of jobs involving nuclear radiation.

    MZKT to inject Br60bn in technical upgrading in 2009-2010

    The Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) plans to put at least Br60 billion in its technical upgrading in 2009-2010, chief engineer of the company Andrei Golovach told reporters on April 25.

    Andrei Golovach said that the company launched the upgrading programme in 2007. In 2007, MZKT got a Br25 billion state subsidy and another $25 million were allotted as a preferential loan. In 2007-2008 the company used nearly Br40 billion and installed 73 items of the up-to-date equipment.

    The new equipment has enhanced the quality of the products and increased labour productivity. Due to the implementation of new technologies, the industrial output raised by 44% in 2007-2008. Power consumption fell 18%.

    The Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant produces road and off-road vehicles of heavy payload, trailers and special wheel chassis for transport companies of the construction, oil and gas, engineering areas, multiaxis chassis for the Far North. The company was founded in 1991.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus leader meets Pope in landmark trip

    From: AFP
    Alexander Lukashenko met the Pope in his first visit to western Europe since 1996
    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko met Monday with Pope Benedict XVI during his first trip to western Europe since an EU travel ban was relaxed in October, the Vatican said.

    The authoritarian leader, once dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by the United States, made the Vatican and Italy his first foray to the region since 1996, when he visited France.

    Citing Belarus's dismal human rights record, including the jailing of opposition members and charges of election rigging in 2006, the EU had placed Lukashenko and dozens of Belarussian officials on a travel blacklist.

    However, in recent months there has been a warming of EU-Belarus ties, to the irritation of Minsk's neighbour Russia, and the Vatican said the pair met in a "positive atmosphere."

    The pope and Lukashenko discussed the situation of the Catholic Church in Belarus, the Vatican said in its statement, adding that the pair discussed inter-faith and international issues.

    "If you find the time, we will meet on Belarussian soil -- if that is God's will," Lukashenko said after the 20-minute meeting, to which he brought his five-year-old son.

    Belarus has been invited to attend an EU summit in Prague on May to launch the bloc's "Eastern Partnership" with fellow former Soviet bloc states Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

    Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defended visit

    In a related story, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini defended the decision to welcome Lukashenko in an open letter Monday to Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading daily, which over the weekend had criticized the government for hosting someone who "imprisons dissidents and gags unaligned newspapers."

    Frattini said the EU had suspended the travel ban precisely to encourage Lukashenko to take a "gradual path of democratic" reforms, and that Italy was merely helping push the process forward by hosting him.

    "The message that the Italian government will send to President Lukashenko is one founded on the European principle defending the law-based state and the fundamental rights and liberties for the men and women of Belarus," Frattini wrote.

    The EU is keen to accommodate Belarus to ensure stability on its eastern doorstep; the region is crucial to the flow of energy to the EU.

    During the Vatican audience, which lasted 25 minutes, Lukashenko invited the pope to visit Belarus "God willing," witnesses said. The president's 5-year-old son, Nikola, gave the pontiff his ABCs book from school.

    The Vatican said the two discussed the role of the Catholic Church in Belarus and relations with the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Lukashenko is hoping to play the role of intermediary in relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church and help bring about the first meeting between the pope and Patriarch Kirill in Belarus.

    Roman Catholics make up about 15 percent of the Belarusian population of 10 million. Many of them are ethnic Poles, who are among the strongest proponents in Belarus for democratic reform and closer ties with Europe.

    Analysts and opposition leaders said Lukashenko's visit was important to his image at home and abroad.

    "The catastrophic situation in the economy is compelling Lukashenko to repair ties with Europe and the United States, and a meeting with the pope opens the door to the West for him," said political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.

    Opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko said the papal audience was particularly important ahead of the Prague summit.

    "Lukashenko's main goal is to improve his image and to receive absolution from the pope ahead of the EU summit in Prague, where many European politicians will not extend a hand to the Belarusian dictator," he said.

    Belarus, Moldova presidents set to skip EU partnership talks

    From: EU Business
    Neither Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko not his Moldova counterpart Vladimir Voronin are likely to attend an EU summit with six former Soviet states next week, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday.

    "My impression is that the (Moldovan) president will not come... for Lukashenko it's more or less the same," Solana said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

    A European diplomat said that Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii was likely to represent Moldova at the talks in Prague on May 7.

    For Belarus it could be a last-minute decision, he added, noting that Belarus' Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov was due in Brussels early next week.

    The uncertainty over the inaugural meeting of the EU's 'Eastern Partnership' initiative was heightened as Solana said it was unclear whether Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko or his rival Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko would turn up in Prague.

    The EU wants to boost ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to accelerate political and economic reforms in the region.

    "What's important is the contents of the summit," said Solana.

    "The summit takes place at a very important moment, with a tremendous economic crisis for many of the countries," he added.

    There is also uncertainty over how many European leaders will turn up to the inaugural Eastern Partnership talks.

    Asked how many EU heads of state and government will attend, Solana replied; "it will be a lot, more than we expected," however he admitted that "it's very difficult to have everybody everywhere... life is complicated."

    Most EU leaders have not yet confirmed their presence at the summit, hosted by the Czech EU presidency just as the Czech government is folding following a parliamentary no-confidence vote.

    The Czechs assumed the rotating EU presidency from France on January 1 and are due to stay at the helm till the end of June.

    However the government of prime minister Mirek Topolanek will be replaced next month.

    During the discussions in Luxembourg, the Czechs made it clear that EU foreign ministers could represent their countries at the Eastern Partnership talks, diplomats said.

    Belarus destroys synagogue of renowned rabbi

    From: AP
    In this photo taken Friday, April 17, 2009, Arkady Gelfand stands in front of a former synagogue in the town of Luban, 85 miles (140 kilometers) south of Minsk, Belarus. The former synagogue of a renowned late Orthodox rabbi is slated for destruction and the local government plans to build a supermarket at the site. Arkady Gelfand, a 70-year-old teacher is one of five Jews remaining in the town of 11,000. The two-story wooden synagogue in Luban was built at the end of the 19th century and became the center of spiritual life for the town's Jews, who at the time comprised 95 percent of the population.
    The roof has been removed and the windows stripped of their frames and glass. Piece by piece, workers are tearing down the former synagogue where a renowned rabbi served before fleeing the Soviet Union for New York in 1936.

    Moshe Feinstein, considered one of the most influential Orthodox rabbis in the United States until his death in 1986, was the last rabbi to serve at the synagogue in this once predominantly Jewish town.

    After his departure, the synagogue in Luban was taken over by Young Pioneers for the training of future communists. Within five years, most of the Jews were gone too, as almost the entire Jewish population was rounded up and shot by the invading Nazis in World War II.

    The synagogue's role in town history was only publicly recognized again in 1996, when a memorial plaque in English, Belarusian and Hebrew was put up on the building, which by then housed a medical clinic.

    The local government now plans to build a supermarket at the site, which is on the main square of the town, located 85 miles (140 kilometers) south of Minsk, the capital.

    The regional government says it has no obligation to save the synagogue, which is not included on a list of buildings considered to have historical or cultural value.

    "The exterior of the building is not in line with that of a Jewish temple, so there is no point in restoring it," said the director of the town's museum, Natalya Sinyak.

    Belarusian Jewish organizations have protested the destruction of synagogue, but the objections have been ignored.

    "Instead of expressing pride in the prominent figures who were born on this land, their memory is being destroyed," said Yakov Basin, vice president of a national Jewish organization.

    As the demolition began, the memorial plaque was moved to a nearby building, where it was attached with two crooked, rusty nails.

    "The synagogue was the only reminder left of the Jews," said Arkady Gelfand, a 70-year-old teacher who is one of five Jews remaining in the town of 11,000.

    No mention is made of Jews even at the Soviet-era memorial where 785 Jews were shot in November 1941 when the Luban Ghetto was liquidated. The victims are referred to only as "peaceful citizens."

    Gelfand, whose parents and grandparents worshipped under Feinstein, remembers how he wept with happiness when the plaque was put up on the former synagogue in a ceremony attended by representatives of the Israeli Embassy.

    "Even so we remain a persecuted people," said Gelfand.

    The Belarusian government denies the existence of anti-Semitism, even as it allows the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and refuses to preserve monuments to the country's rich Jewish history.

    Only about 25,000 Jews now live in Belarus, a country of 10 million people squeezed between Poland and Russia. Before the war, more than half of the urban population was Jewish, and Yiddish was a state language.

    As many as three presidents and four prime ministers of Israel — including Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir, Golda Meir and Ariel Sharon — were born in Belarus.

    The two-story wooden synagogue in Luban was built at the end of the 19th century and became the center of spiritual life for the town's Jews, who at the time comprised 95 percent of the population. Even in 1939, the population was still 60 percent Jewish.

    Feinstein began his tenure as rabbi in 1920 when he was only 25. For years he resisted pressure from the Soviet government as he continued to promote and preserve Jewish customs in the newly atheistic state.

    But in 1936, as dictator Josef Stalin tightened his grip, Feinstein was told to leave the country or face arrest. His brother, who stayed, was arrested and died the following year in a Siberian labor camp.

    Lukashenko criticizes Moscow for economic policy toward Minsk

    From: Kiev Post

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has criticized Moscow for its economic policy toward Minsk.

    "Russia has pumped $10 billion out of Belarus by increasing the price for gas and imposing duties on oil in the past year and a half, and they have extended as much as $2 billion to us under quite a high interest rate, which is not applied anywhere else in the world," Lukashenko said on Saturday.

    The economic situation in Belarus has stabilized now, Lukashenko said.

    "We have clung to the brink of this crisis and are balancing there now. Our senior officials are telling me that some changes have taken shape, and if this trend remains in place until the end of the year, everything is going to be all right," Lukashenko said.

    If Belarus needs more loans, "we will probably ask other people for loans," he said.

    "That somebody in Russia or another country is alleging that we have gone beyond the safe threshold means only that they are afraid that we might ask for loans and are saying beforehand that they would think twice before providing us loans," he said.

    "We are not asking for loans at the moment," he said.

  • From the Opposition...

    There’s no stopping Belarusian dictator

    From: Charter '97
    During the usual annual address to the nation and so-called “parliament” Lukashenka told about “plans to overthrow him” and about the crisis in the country.

    The Belarusian dictator started his speech with threats against the opposition and the West.

    “We are to do our utmost and use every possible means to provide lawfulness, stability of the constitutional foundations, law and order,” the head of the state said. According to Lukashenka, “the present time gives us a unique chance to get rid of everything unnecessary”.

    The Belarusian leader has admitted that “the black wing of the crisis has touched Belarus too”. “That’s the price of integration into the world economy,” he noted.

    Lukashenka warned “everyone who plans to take advantage of it and hopes to fish in troubled waters,” Interfax informs.

    Enemies of the people are all around

    The Belarusian dictator has accused representatives of the opposition of betrayal of the nation’s interests.

    “They are not the opposition, they are merely enemies of the nation, as they do the things unacceptable in any state, even the most democratic one,” Lukashenka stated, speaking about the calls of oppositional politicians to the West to stop cooperation with his regime.

    In particular, A. Lukashenka mentioned the letter of oppositionists with an appeal to block Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership program, and not to allow the Belarusian leader to take part in the summit in Prague. The dictator added that the letter hadn’t been signed by one of the leaders of the Belarusian opposition, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who knew “it would be the ruin for the country”.

    “Do such an opposition and its leaders have any future, when they are against normal life of people?” A. Lukashenka asked and concluded: “No future!”

    About “creeping counter-revolution”

    “Creeping counter-revolution won't work in Belarus,” Lukashenka stated, reminding that “colour revolutions got a punch in their mugs here”.

    Addressing “some our and foreign politicians”, dictator warned against plans “by liberalizing social processes to secretly create conditions for changing the existing social order, or better to say, for Lukashenka’s overthrow”.

    “Any regime is worth something only when it can defend itself and defend its people. As the leader of the state I will do anything to defend not my power, but e power of the people who had placed me here”, A. Lukashenka said.

    During crisis you should work day and night, without sleep or food, to maintain industries

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called upon the people to work day and night and not think of the state as a social security agency.

    “I categorically resist reduction of the staff and throwing people away to the streets. We would like to preserve manufacturing and leave every person working in the industry near their machines”, the leader of the state said.

    He underlined that “people should understand that when we have chosen this path, and so we should come to work and work day and night, with no sleep and no food, but maintain industries”. Then, as said by the leader of the state, “people would have occupation in the post-crisis period, and we won’t lose cadres”.

    “More and more often I receive information that people are ready to live I Belarus like in a social security agency. Belarus is not a social security agency: I work when I want. It won’t do this way,” A. Lukashenka stated, underlining that “locally instructions have been made to stop such sentiments in the harshest way”.

    Liberalization is not permissiveness

    Lukashenka insists that the liberalization of the economy announced in the country shouldn’t be seen as permissiveness.

    “When we announced liberalization of the economy, many people understood it as permissiveness. And it should be seen as a creative initiative, and not a way to get easy money,” he said.

    “Liberalization is not a one-time act. Is does not come to privatization and selling off land only. It is a systematic process primarily aimed at business activity motivating,” the Belarusian ruler underscored.

    “We are speaking about economic liberalization, about not hindering those who want to work. And some renegades and antisocial personalities have understood that one could do what one likes.”

    “My condition is quite good…”

    Speaking about whether the new team or family influence him, he answered: “Some people use the following line of reasoning: some new team came to the president, I won’t tell their names, these names are well-known, they include even my sons; -- and they allegedly influence the president, they turn the wheel of history of Belarus towards the West away from Russia, liberalization and so on. Calm down, I am still able to form the policy inside the country and abroad,” A. Lukashenka said.

    “I am saying once again, honestly and sincerely: do not delude yourselves that some groupings have emerged around the president and press on him and influence him: go to the West – and he goes; or go to the East,” the leader of the state underlined.

    “We go where we are waited for, where we have our national interests. Don't worry, the president’s condition is quite good, and he is ready to adopt decisions in the framework of the Constitution,” A. Lukashenka said.

    Lukashenka has called Czech president’s statement “boorishness”

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka believes that the statement of the “high-ranking official of the Czech Republic” about “not offering a hand to Lukashenka” boorishness.

    “Not long ago that I heard in the media from a high-ranking Czech official that he “won’t offer me a hand”. Well, it’s ok if you won’t. Please no boorishness, it does no good in the relations between the states,” the dictator stated.

    The Belarusian leader called upon the host side at the EU summit of the European Partnership to choose proper with wording and make their position specific. “If it would be inconvenient for you to have at least one person from Belarus, then you shouldn’t invite us. We shall tolerate if it would be uncomfortable or unbeneficial to you,” A. Lukashenka said. “Do as you please. If it is convenient that a different person, not Lukashenka, will represent Belarus, say it openly,” he added. “I am an open person; let’s talk openly, maybe not publicly. And I will understand you,” the Belarusian leader said, addressing the organisers of the Eastern Partnership summit.

    As it has been informed, the Czech President’s spokesman Radim Ochvat said that Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic presiding in the EU now, “won’t offer a hand to Mr Lukashenka” and “won’t invite him to his residence in Prazsky hrad” in case he arrive to Prague to the European Partnership summit on May 7, 2009.

    Russian direction is a priority

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka confirms the strategic importance of cooperation with Russia for Belarus.

    “Cooperation with the Russian Federation and building of the union state have a strategic meaning for Belarus,” A. Lukashenka said.

    The Belarusian leader called the effect of cooperation of the two countries “impressive”. “[We have] a turnover of about $35 billion last year, the wide range of spheres of cooperation, intensive and interested dialogue at all levels,” he noted.

    Lukashenka paid attention to the fact that the decisions adopted during the last session of the Supreme State Council of the “union state” form “a strategic line of bilateral cooperation”, adding that “joint anti-crisis programs” take on special significance.

    During delivering the address A. Lukashenka has also set a task to maintain the high level of cooperation in the framework of the EurAsEC, CSTO and the CIS.

    “In a few months Belarus to receive functions of the chairman in the CSTO legislative bodies”, he reminded. “In the conditions of continuing erosion of the European global security, the problem is posed to use the potential of this organisation in full measure,” A. Lukashenka noted.

    A. Lukashenka has also said that participation in the Non-Aligned Movement remains a priority for the country.

    Belarus to produce “Iskanders” itself

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka is perplexed by offers in Russian mass media to stop weapons deliveries to Belarus because of its rapprochement with the West.

    “When relations with the West were tense, everybody in Russia was for Belarus. And today in reputable editions which are read by Russian leaders too, it is said: what’s the use of delivering such weapons as Iskander to Belarus, when Lukashenka has changed the vector of his foreign policy,” A. Lukashenka said.

    “We have never asked Iskanders from the Russians. We’ll buy them ourselves. But I’ll say sincerely, we’ll produce them ourselves if we would need them, except missiles; and we’ll buy missiles,” he promised.

    At the same time, the ruler underlined that Belarus cannot pursue the policy against Russia, as Russia cannot be substituted for by any other country.

    Addressing European partners, the president expressed misunderstanding over the statements on the problem of recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia. “They say, if Belarus recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we would punish it. Then you should punish Russia, they have already recognized it,” A. Lukashenka said, promising that Belarus will fulfill what was declared by the country many times.

    The Belarusian ruler asked people in the East and in the West to calm down and “to try to proceed from our internal interests just for one minute”.

    “Calm down, let us pursue the policy which would be interesting and harmless to all,” he promised.

    Dictator against freedom of speech

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka is convinced that if freedom was given to the opposition in the media, “people would avoid it like a leper”.

    “Lukashenka is demanded to change the laws, to break the electoral system, to destroy mass media, to give them to the opposition. But if the Belarusian oppositionists would be allowed to be published in mass media openly, 90% of the population would avoid them like lepers,” the dictator stated.

    Underlining that Belarus does not accept a dialogue from the position of strength, but keeps its promises, and addressing Western ambassadors who are traditionally present in the Oval hall, the Belarusian leader said: “Belarus has kept to its promise to the West, and stops illegal migrants from the East to the EU countries”.

    “We have put a barrier on the way of illegal migrants to the Western Europe. We are keeping our word like a reinforced concrete,” A. Lukashenka said, “We promised that, and we are doing that. Now illegal migrants pass Belarus by, no matter what aim of there trip from East to West is,” the Belarusian ruler underlined.

    “We are guarding the stability of the European heart and we want everything to be tranquil and normal here,” the leader of the state noted.

    “Maybe not today, but tomorrow you are to understand that and to express thanks to us,” he said.

  • Around the Region...

    Belarus, Ukraine, Russia grieving over Chernobyl anniversary

    From: Itar Tass
    All Orthodox and Catholic churches in Belarus hold prayers for people who died or fell ill as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident on the disaster's remembrance.

    In Minsk, a commemorative rally was held at a square outside an Orthodox Chapel built by the Belarusian Interior Ministry officers and the Ministry of Emergency Situations in memory of the liquidators and victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

    Flowers and wreaths were lain at the monuments and obelisks to the Heroes of Chernobyl.

    The Belarusian opposition held an authorized traditional action in Minsk titled “The Route of Chernobyl."

    “The material damage incurred on Belarus by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident can be commeasured only to the losses in the Great Patriotic War,” President Alexander Lukashenko said on the occasion of the sad date.

    Fascists destroyed 619 Belarusian villages while Belarus lost 485 settlements in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

    “Belarus received the main blow of the Chernobyl disaster: 70% of all radioactive substances fell out on the Belarusian territory, 3,600 villages, a home to one fifth of the Belarusian population, were located in the contaminated area,” Lukashenko went on to say.

    In the first months of the tragedy Belarus sent 115,000 liquidators and five chemical protection and civil defence regiments to Chernobyl.

    “Over the past 20 years Belarus has spent 20 billion dollars on these purposes,” the president said.

    According to official information, Belarus will allocate one trillion roubles or about 360 million dollars for the development of the accident-stricken areas.

    The victims and heroes of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident were also be remembered in Ukraine and Russia.

    Ukraine mourns the victims of the Chernobyl power plant accident on the disaster’s 23rd anniversary on April 26. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has lain wreaths to “The Heroes of Chernobyl” memorial in Kiev and has attend a memorial service for the dead. Flowers were also lain at the “Soldiers of Chernobyl” monument.

    National flags will fly at half-mast at all government buildings on Sunday.

    A fire that broke out on the fourth power unit early on April 26, 1986 is one of the biggest man-induced disasters in the world. A series of thermal explosions at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant destroyed a reactor located 120 km away from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Huge amounts of radioactive substances were emitted into the atmosphere. The aggregate emission of radioactive materials accounted for 50 million curies, which is equal to explosions of 500 atomic bombs like the one that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Fifty thousand square kilometers of territory were contaminated in Ukraine and more than three million people were affected by the disaster.

    The 23rd anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident was also observed in St. Petersburg. Rallies and meetings were held at the city cemeteries where the disaster liquidators are buried.

    St. Petersburg has five public organizations uniting the victims of radiation. The Chernobyl liquidators and their families face great social problems, which is traditionally the main topic of discussion at the annual meetings on April 26. St. Petersburg has about nine thousand people who were subject to radiation back in 1986. Six and a half thousand of them liquidated the accident in Chernobyl. Half of them are invalids.

    The heads of the Russian Emergencies Ministry, the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine have honoured the memory of Chernobyl’s liquidators at the Mitino cemetery where 28 firefighters are buried.

    Twenty-three years ago fire fighters from all the 15 republic of the former USSR fought the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. For them the tragedy was a common grief.

    Russia voices concern over eastern European Union outreach

    From: Kiev Post
    Russia's foreign minister expressed misgivings Tuesday over European Union plans to forge close economic and political ties with six ex-Soviet republics.

    The minister, Sergey Lavrov, said he "would very much like to believe" assurances the EU is not entering Moscow's backyard by locking Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus into an eastern partnership.

    Such a pact will include closer political and economic ties.

    "We would like very much to believe this," Lavrov told reporters after talks with EU officials. But he added "some of the comments we have heard from the EU side do worry us."

    He said Moscow would "wait and see" what emerges from a May 7 summit in Prague at which the EU's eastern outreach agreement will be formally signed.

    The aim of the partnership is to cement closer ties with ex-Soviet republics that border the 27-nation bloc, but where Moscow retains much sway.

    The EU will offer its eastern neighbors free trade, millions in economic aid, regular security consultations, economic integration to its vast single European market, technical expertise and visa-free travel. The partnership obliges the neighbors to commit to democracy, the rule of law and sound economic and human rights policies.

    Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg rejected Russian concerns. "I am sure Russia will see this time that it's not against them. It is purely a development project," he told reporters.

    Lavrov's comments showed how testy EU-Russia ties remain after last summer's war in Georgia and fractious energy relations that led to a cutoff of Russian gas deliveries to Western Europe in January.

    The EU's partnership plan, which will aim to spend -1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) between now and 2013, does not promise EU membership to the neighbors. The EU defends the partnership as an effort to build security on its borders saying that is good for the EU and its neighbors.

    Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief said EU-Russian relations were improving in parallel to better ties between Moscow and Washington.

    The EU is backing U.S.-Russia negotiations on a a new treaty to reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles.

    Medvedev Proposes a New "Energy Balance" in Europe

    From: Jamestown
    During his visit to Helsinki, Finland on April 20, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev outlined a plan which would transform the Energy Charter, a document which has never been ratified by Russia, "in order to meet the interests of energy producers and consumers" (Kommersant, April 21, 2009). The plan envisions that gas producers and consumers share a role in energy transit routes in third countries and ensure that these routes are maintained and renovated to keep them in working order.

    The proposal also calls for the creation of an "energy balance" report to outline the long-term needs of consumer states in order for Russia to determine the level of investments needed into its energy sector and ensure that long-term contracts are met.

    The Russian proposal seemed to be aimed above all at stopping the Ukrainian-EU agreement reached in Brussels on March 23 which calls for the EU to renovate and expand the capacity of the Ukrainian gas trunk pipeline from the present through-put capacity of 145 billion cubic meters of gas annually by 58.6 billion -without Russian participation. The Kremlin's reaction to the agreement was virulent.

    Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out by asking the far from rhetorical question: "Nobody asked us if we are ready to transport such quantities [of gas]" and threatened to raise the price of gas to EU customers if the agreement is carried out (UNIAN, March 24, 2009).

    But the proposal also appears to be aimed at Poland through which the Yamal pipeline sends 20 percent of Russian gas to Germany. The Polish section of the Yamal pipeline is operated by EuRoPolGaz which is 48 percent owned by the Polish company PGNiG, 48 percent by Gazprom and 4 percent by Gas Trading SA, controlled by the Polish oligarch Aleksander Gudzowaty who has often been suspected of harboring strong pro-Gazprom views. In June 2006, Krysztof Glogowsky, the president of the monitoring group of EuRoPolGaz S.A., accused Gazprom of attempting to implement a policy of financially weakening EuRoPolGaz in order to bankrupt the company. According to PGNiG, Gazprom was doing this in order to gain control over the Polish section of the Yamal pipeline (www.intellibriefs.blogspot, July 12, 2007).

    Other transit countries which could be affected by the Russian plan are Bulgaria, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, as well as Hungary and Austria which have already signed on to the Russian South Stream gas pipeline project as transit countries (EDM, June 10, 2008).

    Equally, the Russian proposal might only be a test of unity within the EU. If the EU agrees to the new transit country proposals it would hand over to Gazprom an inordinate influence over pipeline decisions within EU member countries.

    The answer to the Russian proposal came on April 22 when the European Parliament approved by a vote of 596 for and 45 against the "Third Energy Packet" of the EU gas liberalization legislation, which, according to many commentators, will block Russia from achieving its long-standing plan of gaining control over EU domestic gas distribution pipelines. This would allow Gazprom to dictate transit tariff fees as well as collect huge rents from domestic EU gas sales, not to mention the immense political advantages Russia stood to gain from such a coup.

    The "Third Energy Packet" legislation demands the de-coupling of energy producers from pipelines they own -and can possibly manipulate in order to inflate prices through by-passing the terms of existing long-term gas sales contracts.

    One commentary in the Russian press stated that "while the North Stream project is not threatened by this ["Third Energy Packet" legislation] because it is protected by a special agreement which forbids the assignment of management of the project to third parties, Russia will not gain the political influence in Europe which it expected and which has prolonged the project's implementation (Kommersant, April 23, 2009).

    What apparently upsets Moscow's energy interests is that the legislation will pave the way for EU gas companies to buy Russian gas at the Ukrainian-Russian border and thereby integrate the Ukrainian gas transit pipeline into the EU gas pipeline network. Such a move will further undermine Vladimir Putin's goal of subjugating Ukraine.

    The way to combat this strategically important geopolitical challenge in the eyes of the Kremlin lies in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections. If the Kremlin decides to once again support the pro-Russian Ukrainian Party of the Regions -as it did in 2004- it might demand that their favored candidate Viktor Yanukovych, rejects the March 2009 Brussels agreement. Instead, by allowing Russia to participate in the reconstruction of the Ukrainian pipeline, it will obtain a powerful say in controlling the Ukrainian gas transit system.

    The outcome of this gamble is far from clear. Yanukovych has remained non-committal on this issue while Yushchenko has insisted on the revision of the January 2009 gas import contract with Gazprom (Ukrayinska Pravda, 23 April 2009). This does not appear feasible. Yushchenko's somewhat confused statement at his press conference on April 22 was vague and appeared to be yet another attack on Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko as part of his effort to discredit her. However, Gazprom is now set on controlling all its gas transit routes in Europe.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    More arrests likely in Polish corruption probe

    From: Guardian
    More Polish soccer officials are likely to be detained on suspicion of corruption and the country may have to employ referees from abroad to ensure the top league can continue, the sports minister said on Monday.

    Euro 2012 co-host Poland has so far detained nearly 200 people, including board members of football associations, club officials, players and referees, as part of a match-fixing probe involving 52 clubs.

    Following suspensions and corruption allegations, Poland has only 15 referees allowed to work at top-flight matches, raising doubts over whether there are enough to keep the league running.

    "We are determined to fight corruption until all people involved are charged," sports minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki told Reuters in an interview.

    "I don't know if it will be 50 or 150 more people ... I think next year the process should be drawing to a close.
    "If the number of referees goes down to 12 or seven, there are many young referees from lower leagues waiting for their chance and we could also consider inviting referees from neighbouring countries."

    Drzewiecki added that he favoured tough punishment for those involved in match-fixing, including lifetime bans in the worst cases, but said punishing the clubs might not always be appropriate.

    "It is questionable whether we should punish clubs for deeds from four or five years ago, when none of the people involved work there anymore. This is the situation in most cases," he said.

    Of those detained as part of the anti-corruption investigation, around 20 people have been charged and have either been jailed or fined.

    EURO 2012

    The only way to ensure real change in Polish soccer was to eliminate corruption and bring in a new national team coach, Drzewiecki said.

    "(Current coach) Leo Beenhakker is a great professional ... but given how poor his relations have been with (Polish FA) PZPN over the past year, it's hard to imagine their cooperation in the future," Drzewiecki said.

    "And without that, it's hard to achieve success. But Beenhakker should finish his term."

    Dutchman Beenhakker's contract expires later this year and Drzewiecki signalled Poland might want to hire a local coach as his successor.

    Turning to Euro 2012, the sports minister was optimistic about Poland's preparations for the event following UEFA president Michel Platini's visit earlier this month but also saw several challenges ahead.

    "Apart from the stadiums, hotels and airports are key. And security of course," Drzewiecki said.

    He added that better roads needed to be built linking potential host cities.
    Both Poland and co-host Ukraine have been criticised in the past by UEFA for making slow progress on preparations.

    There has been media speculation that UEFA is looking at possible alternatives as championship hosts but Platini routinely says there is no "plan B".

    Polish Film extra turns out to be murderer

    From: Polskie radio
    A man in Poland who brutally murdered a 70 year old woman took part in the reconstruction of the crime for a popular TV crime programme.

    Ryszard S. who acted as an extra in a sensationalist TV program about crime turns out to be a murderer in real life.

    On 20 April 1999 Ryszard S. from Pustowo, a village in the north west of Poland, murdered his elderly neighbour. Although police suspected 54-years-old Ryszard S. of committing his guilt was not proved and the investigation was suspended.

    The same year journalists from “997”, a popular TV program about the most shocking crimes committed in Poland, visited Pustowo to film a reconstruction of the crime. The main roles in the reconstruction were already cast but the film crew needed extras. Ryszard S. volunteered for the role of a local drunkard, the victim’s neighbour, in the hope of earning some money.

    From the very beginning Ryszard S. seemed unusually interested in the subject of the old woman’s death. He wanted to know what the police had managed to establish and was very convincing in his role, which aroused suspicion.

    Ten years after the murder, policemen from Slupsk reopened the case, which is a normal procedure in cases of unsolved crimes from the past.

    “We analyzed the evidence and compared it with Ryszard S.’s DNA,” Robert Czerwinski from Police Headquarters in Slupsk told “Then it turned out he is indeed the murderer.”

    In 1999, DNA testing were not available and the popular method of establishing the identity of the suspect was examining finger prints.

    “Ryszard S. was surprised when we arrested him ten years after the crime. He was convinced he would escape punishment,” said Czerwinski.

    The suspect is waiting for a trial in the custody in Slupsk and may face up to 25 years in prison. The investigation is still running, as the police are trying to establish whether Ryszard S. had any partners in crime.

    The policemen from Slupsk received a prize for solving the mysterious crime committed ten years ago.

    Germany and Austria keep doors closed for Polish workers

    From: Polskie Radio
    On Monday Vienna and Berlin officially informed the European Commission that they will retain restrictions on their labour markets for Poles and other new EU members.

    As the five year anniversary of the latest enlargement of the European Union approaches on May 1, Germany and Austria will now be the only countries in the 27 nation bloc to retain labour market restrictions.

    The governments argue that the present economic crisis is already putting a strain on labour markets and any possible new influx of migrants would be intolerable.

    In 2008, over 3.3 million Germans were unemployed. In March 2009 the number rose to 3.6 million. According to Germany’s official letter to the European Commission, sent on Monday, next year about 4.6 million people could be without a job. The worst situation is forecast for the east of the country, where the unemployment rate has risen to over 14 percent.

    The European Commission has underlined, however, that the economic crisis is not sufficient reason alone to maintain labour market restrictions.

    “We will analyze the official statements and then we will comment on the case”, said Katharina von Schnurbein, spokesman of at the EC.

    At present about 490,000 Poles work legally in Germany as self employed, or where rules allow for migrants to occupy a designated number of professions. Even with restrictions in place Germany has been the second favourite destination after the UK for Poles since the nation joined the EU in 2004.

    Germany has said that it will retain its restrictions to migrants from Poland and new member states until 2011.

    EC probes Polish telecom

    From: Polskie radio
    The European Commission launched an investigation, yesterday, into Telekominikacja Polska (TPSA) on suspicions that the Polish telecoms giant is breaching antitrust rules and hindering competition on broadband internet access.

    TPSA said in a statement that it was cooperating with the European Commission and "would make available all information necessary to clarify possible objections".

    The launch of the probe follows raids carried out by the European Union regulator on Telekomunikacja Polska in September 2008.

    If found to have breached EU competition rules, TPSA, which is controlled by France Telecom, could face a fine of up to ten percent of their annual turnover.

    The main accusation is that the company refused to allow rivals to access bitstream - a high-speed Internet link between customers and the local telecoms network - and the local telephone network between customers and the central exchange.

    A similar investigation was opened against Slovak Telekom, which is a part of Deutsche Telekom group.

  • Sport...

    Belarus earns qualification tamed Hungary in last period

    From: USA Today and Euro Hockey
    Belarus advanced to the second round of the ice hockey world championship on Tuesday by beating Hungary 3-1. Once again Belarussian goalie Andrei Mezin was decisive

    Hungary gave its enthusiastic fans a final gift challenging au pair Belarus for two perioda, knocking against a superb Andrei Mezin, proving they will fight with hopes in relegation round.

    Alexei Ugarov and Mikhail Grabovski scored a goal each in the third period. Alexei Kaliuzhny scored for Belarus in the first, but Imre Peterdi tied the game in the second to set up a tense final period.

    Hungary, which was outshot 42-23, needed to win to reach the second round after losing to Canada and Slovakia.

    Belarus also lost to the Canadians, but the team beat Slovakia in a penalty shootout.

    Belarus advances to Intermediate Round with high moral and waiting for young defender Vladimir Denisov arrive, scheduled for monday.

    Alexei Kaliuzhny opened the scoring on power play at 03:18 but then Hungary dominated, evening the score in the second period with Imre Peterdi and having two great chances with Balazs Ladanyi and Marton Vas, but Mezin was outstanding with the saves.

    Finally Mikhail Grabovski netted third goal with Ungarian goalie pulled out

    Hungary - Belarus 1-3 (0-1,1-0,0-2)
    0-1 03:18 Alexei Kaliuzhny (Antonenko,Salei)PP
    1-1 25:14 Imre Peterdi (Ladanyi,Vas)
    1-2 54:25 Alexei Ugarov (Kaliuzhny,Grabovski)
    1-3 59:10 Mikhail Grabovski (Kaliuzhny,Salei)
    PIM: 5x2 - 1x2 SOG: 23-42 Att: 4.710
    MVP: Balazs Ladanyi - Konstantin Koltsov

    Belarus wins shootout after 1-1 tie with Slovakia

    Earlier, Oleg Antonenko scored twice in a penalty shootout win Sunday to give Belarus two points after tying Slovakia 1-1 at the world championships.
    Antonenko scored the first goal of the shootout by scoring through the pads of Slovakia goaltender Ratislav Stana. Stefan Ruzicka immediately tied the score, but the teams failed to score on their next two chances.

    Ruzicka got another shot, but was blocked by Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin. That set up Antonenko, who again beat Stana.

    Belarus got a major boost toward qualifying for the second round. If Canada beats Hungary later Sunday, Belarus would have only needed a tie with Hungary to progress.

    Despite only getting one point, Slovakia will qualify if the heavily favored Canadians win as expected.

    Quartet add names to Belarus lineup

    From: UEFA
    Germany, Iceland, Norway and France have all booked places at this summer's UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship finals, joining England, Switzerland and hosts Belarus.

    Group winners
    With England and Switzerland having already sealed their places at the finals from 13-25 July on Saturday with a game to spare, Germany joined them in emphatic style thanks to a 6-0 win against the Republic of Ireland that wrapped up first place in Group 4, while Norway were almost as decisive in clinching Group 2, Tina Algroy and Cecilie Pedersen both scoring twice in a 5-0 victory against Austria. France finished first in Group 3 by virtue of a 2-0 defeat of Azerbaijan, and Group 1 was won by Iceland thanks to their 2-2 draw against mini-tournament hosts Poland.

    Best runners-up
    The draw for the finals will take place in Minsk on 12 May, when the six group winners and hosts Belarus will be joined by the runners-up with the best record against the teams first and third in their pool, which will be confirmed on Wednesday. Norway booked their place in last year's tournament by virtue of this route, and went on to reach the final.

    2008/09 UEFA European Women's under-19 Championship finalists:
    Belarus (hosts)
    TBC (best runners-up)

  • Cultural Scene...

    Vogue Mill 2009 to take place in Minsk May 1-3

    From: BelTA
    The 18th Vogue Mill 2009 International Festival will take place in Minsk on May 1-3, BelTA learnt from the organizing committee of the festival.

    On May 1-2, the Palace of Sports will host fashion shows in the School of Vogue and Vogue Master nominations as well as prêt-a-porter showing. The programme will also include press conferences with the organizers and guests of the festival.

    The Belarusian capital will welcome designers from Moscow, Paris, Wales, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Stockholm. European collections will be displayed on May 3. The festival will be wrapped up with a fairy tale Noise in the Wardrobe staged by well-known Belarusian modeler Sasha Varlamov.

    The festival has been founded by Belarusian State University (BSU). The organizing committee includes Education and Foreign Ministries of Belarus, the National State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company of Belarus, the Minsk City Council, the BSU teenage fashion centre, Sasha Varlamov’s Fashion Agency.

    Several international festivals will take place in 2009 and early 2010. among them is Vogue Mill in Austria and Czechia, Vogue Mill in Moscow, Vogue Mill in Belgium, Germany and Wales, Vogue Mill in the Kingdom of Sweden.

    The finals of the International Young Designer Contest of the Russian Silhouette Charitable Organisation with the participation of the best collections of the Vogue Mill 2008/2009 international festival will be held in Moscow on September 29.

  • Endnote...

    EU Foreign Ministers Discuss Growing Eastern Instability

    From: RFE/RL
    Benita Ferrero-Waldner is expected to tell EU foreign ministers that the bloc has no choice but to seek closer ties with its neighbors.
    Keeping its eastern neighbors on the path to stability and prosperity has become a formidable test for EU foreign policy in recent months.

    As she unveiled an annual review of the bloc's European Neighborhood Policy, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner told the 27 EU foreign ministers it has been a "difficult year" -- particularly in the east.

    But Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who chaired the meeting, said the EU is resolved to push on with its Eastern Partnership initiative, which is designed to forge closer ties between the bloc and six eastern neighbors.

    "We believe that sending a strong message to the six partnership countries -- Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- is very important in the light of the recent developments in the region, and that we need to engage with our neighbors more closely in order to promote good governance, the rule of law, and transparency," he said.

    Brutal Crackdown

    One need look no further than this month's unrest in Moldova to know that this will not be easy.

    That country is still recovering from a brutal crackdown on mass public protests in the capital, Chisinau, following a landslide win for the ruling Communists in parliamentary elections. In the wake of the violence, the country's increasingly Russian-leaning president, Vladimir Voronin, pointedly accused neighboring Romania -- an EU member -- of fomenting the unrest.

    Moldova then expelled the ambassador to Romania and imposed a summary visa regime on Romanian visitors. And sources in Brussels say Voronin told Kalman Miszei, the EU special envoy, that Moldova has "friends elsewhere."

    Now, at Romania's request, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg discussed Moldova during talks over lunch -- a setting usually reserved for issues of particular concern.

    The EU adopted a declaration saying it has "serious concerns" about developments in the country, and Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg said Moldova "poses a challenge" for the EU.

    "The current tensions in the country pose a challenge for the European Union. Our task is now to find a proper way to strengthen our policy of bringing Moldova closer to our standard," he said. "We expect Moldova to behave in a European way, not only vis-a-vis the European Union and its members, but first of all, of course, internally."

    But, Schwarzenberg stressed, the Eastern Partnership initiative remains "no doubt the right tool" to bolster reforms in Moldova.

    Cutting Some Slack

    Czech Prime Minister Miroslav Topolanek, who was in Chisinau last week representing the EU Presidency, reported that neither the government nor the opposition appears to have the political will to meet the other side for talks -- a key EU wish.

    The Netherlands is the lone advocate of a tougher EU stance on Moldova (and another problematic partnership member, Belarus). But Germany and Poland head the EU's mainstream in arguing that Moldova must not be isolated and needs greater EU support.

    The country's economy is seen by many in the EU to be on the brink of collapse.

    Moldova's decision to slap visas on Romanians is, however, likely to have repercussions. The European Commission has called the measure unacceptable in light of EU-Moldova visa facilitation talks and is likely to raise it at an EU-Moldova meeting in a few days.

    Moldova's partner on the EU lunch agenda was neighboring Ukraine, where there has been no public unrest but where mounting political and economic paralysis increasingly threatens the country's viability.

    Again, Germany and Poland appear to be closely coordinating policy, with the two countries' foreign ministers reported to have addressed a joint letter to the EU's Czech presidency last week expressing concern at the economic and political situation in Ukraine.

    The two ministers are said to have floated the idea of an EU assistance mission to Ukraine to facilitate dialogue among all political leaders. However, it is generally feared that a resolution to the political crisis in Ukraine is improbable before the 2010 presidential elections.

    The EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, said after the meeting that the EU would now study ways of stabilizing the country. "After the discussion today we will see how we can help prior to the elections and after the elections, the presidential elections, to see how we can arrange the economic situation and the political situation," he said.

    Is Lukashenka Coming?

    The EU foreign ministers on April 27 will also discuss the agendas and guest lists of two important upcoming summits.

    On May 7, representatives of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan have been invited to attend a summit in Prague on its Eastern Partnership, which is meant to extend special benefits to the EU's eastern neighbors.

    Much speculation is circulating over whether Belarus's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, will attend. The invitations to the summit are not personal, giving every country's leader the choice of whether to turn up in Prague in person. Many EU nations expect Lukashenka to send a stand-in.

    A joint declaration signed by the 27 EU member states and the six partner countries is planned for the summit. The text of the document is still being discussed with the partners and is expected to be finalized a week in advance of the summit.

    On May 8, the EU will hold another summit in Prague, dedicated to what has become known as the Southern Corridor of energy provision.

    This meeting will be conducted under the auspices of the EU "troika" of Topolanek, Solana, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The three will face officials representing Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

    Six 'Observers'

    Together, the five countries represent the EU's main hope of securing significant amounts of natural gas deliveries without resorting to Russian supplies or mediation.

    Six "observers" have also been invited -- Iraq, Egypt, and Uzbekistan as potential supplier countries; and Russia, Ukraine, and the United States as other major interested parties.

    The presence of the last three has been the subject of some controversy within the EU. Germany led a long-established group of countries -- including France, Italy, and Spain, among others -- which overcame resistance from others and secured an invitation for Russia.

    The Southern Corridor is explicitly defined by the EU as a direct link to energy resources in the Caspian Sea region bypassing Russia.

    A draft summit declaration, seen by RFE/RL, breaks new ground for the EU by saying the bloc intends to "give strong political support" to the construction of the Southern Corridor -- including the "trans-Caspian link."

    This is a planned gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan which would link Central Asia directly with the Nabucco pipeline projected to run from Baku to Europe, circumventing Russia.