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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, May 03, 2009

Belarus in 1/4's at Hockey World's, Trade with Vietnam, Iran, MILEX 2009, Housing, Slavonic Bazaar, Eastern Partnership, Russia and Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #408

    Belarus views Vietnam as platform for boosting trade with Asian countries, President says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus views Vietnam as a platform for stepping up trade and economic cooperation with the countries of the Asian-Pacific region, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong on April 30.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that Belarus is interested in expanding the trade and economic cooperation with Vietnam. According to him, the present $130-million trade does not meet the potential of the two countries.

    The President noted that during his visit to Vietnam in April 2008 the two leaders outlined many cooperation areas between the two countries. “I would like to confirm that we will honour the agreements we have signed, especially in the scientific-technical and education area,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko also praised successful development of inter-parliamentary relations. Close cooperation between the parliaments will help improve the relations in all areas, said the President.

    For his part, Nguyen Phu Trong expressed gratitude for the high assessment of Vietnam’s standing in the region. The relations between the two countries are traditionally friendly and expand in many areas. “We never forget about the great assistance and support that the Belarusian people provided during the war and in peacetime. I think there is no other country in the world with which Vietnam has the same friendly brotherly relations which are based on trust and understanding,” said the Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam.

    Nguyen Phu Trong noted that Vietnam has very warm good impressions about the visit of the President of Belarus in April 2008 during which many agreements were signed. He also conveyed best wishes to Alexander Lukashenko for the Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the President of the country.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Iran Presidents may meet after implementation of major joint projects

    From: BelTA
    The Presidents of Belarus and Iran may hold a meeting after major Belarus-Iran joint projects are implemented, head of the Judicial Authority of Iran Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi told reporters on April 30.

    According to him, this meeting will be possible after Belarus and Iran implement the targeted major projects and such a meeting is in preparation.

    The head of the Judicial Authority of Iran said that during the meeting with the President of Belarus he handed over a message from the Iranian leadership. Alexander Lukashenko, in turn, handed a message to the Iranian authorities.

    “The President of Belarus, high-profile authorities and delegations from Belarus are always welcome in Iran,” Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi underlined.

    Iran seeks to expand all-round cooperation with Belarus

    Iran considers it necessary to expand cooperation with Belarus in all areas, head of the Judicial Authority of Iran Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said as he met with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We believe that the relations between Iran and Belarus are friendly and very close. All top-ranking officials, the leadership of our country are it interested in expanding these relations,” the high guest said.

    The head of the Judicial Authority of Iran has noted that Belarus and Iran have close positions on the issues of international importance, have a great potential for cooperation in the economic, legal and cultural areas. “We are interested in strengthening bilateral relations in these directions,” he added.

    Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said that before his visit to Minsk he met with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spoke about the importance of the relations with Belarus and urged that all the signed documents should come into force and should be implemented. The President of Iran also believes that the trade with Belarus does not meet the potential of the two countries. “We should intensify our relations in all areas and make sure that the joint projects are implemented as soon as possible,” said the head of the Judicial Authority of Iran.

    Belarus, Iran should stand against hegemony of some states together

    Belarus and Iran should stand against the hegemony of some states together, head of the Judicial Authority of Iran Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said as he met with Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Boris Batura.

    “We should give a new interpretation to such notions as human rights, rights of people, terrorism, fight against terrorism, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, discrimination,” Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi said.

    “Unfortunately, some hegemonic colonialist states misuse these notions, have turned them into the instrument of imposing their will on other nations,” he said. Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi added that Belarus and Iran should take measures to help “all free peoples to live the way they want.”

    Head of the Judicial Authority of Iran underlined that the two countries have common views and interests in many areas. In order to achieve these common goals we should step up cooperation in such areas of international concern as human rights and fight against terrorism, he said.

    Defence ministers of Ukraine, Tajikistan and Sudan to visit MILEX 2009 in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    The defence ministers of Ukraine, Tajikistan and Sudan intend to visit the international armaments and materiel expo MILEX 2009, which will be held in Minsk on May 19-22, First Deputy Chairman of the Belarus State Defence Industries Committee Piotr Rogozshevsky told a press conference in Minsk on April 30.

    Deputy defence ministers of Turkey and Armenia, chiefs of general staff of the armed forces of several countries are expected to attend the exhibition as well. Organizers of the forum have already received 17 official replies which confirm the participation of foreign delegations in MILEX 2009.

    The 4th international research conference on military, technical, defence, security issues and use of dual application technologies will be held within the framework of the exhibition in Minsk.

    Attending the conference will be heads and specialists of the ministries and governmental departments, research and educational establishments, Belarusian and foreign companies engaged in development of the prospecting defence technologies. Some 218 experts from 50 organizations of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria are expected to take part in the work of the forum.

    Some 140 official delegations from 41 countries have been invited to attend the exhibition. More than 130 exhibitors from Belarus (99), Armenia (1) and Ukraine (4) have already announced about their participation.

    The exhibition pavilions will occupy 1600 square metres and 2700 square metres of the open ground.

    Belarus to build 9m square meters of housing in 2010

    From: BelTA
    Nine million square meters of housing is to be built in Belarus in 2010, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told reporters on April 30.

    In line with the task set by the head of state, the National Bank and the government are drawing up a programme to considerably increase the volume of housing construction in 2010. “At present we are considering a possibility to commission 9 million square meters of housing in 2010 while 6 million square meters is to be constructed in 2009,” Piotr Prokopovich said.

    According to him, the amount of material resources needed has already been calculated. The involvement of financial and credit resources is being considered as well. “Naturally, it will require substantial financial and credit resources. It is a special and challenging task. These issues are currently being studied together with specialists, but in the near future the proposals to speed up the housing construction will be submitted to the head of state for consideration,” the head of the National Bank underlined.

    “The increase in housing construction almost 1.5 times is a difficult task. But I think that we will be able to solve it within 2009. It will settle many social issues, reduce the waiting list of people in need of better housing in large cities, will contribute to the economic growth of the country,” Piotr Prokopovich said.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Alley of Fame to be laid out in Vitebsk

    From: BelTA
    An Alley of Fame will be laid out by the start of the 18th international festival of arts “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk”, Vitaly Dubik, chief architect of the city, told reporters.

    The alley will be laid out in the green zone of the lower ground of the amphitheatre. It will be designed according to international traditions: the name of an artist will be captured in cement. A cornflower, a symbol of the festival, will decorate every slab with an artist’s name.

    At first, five famous artists, participants of the festival, will be awarded the stars.

    Vitebsk is getting prepped for the festival: clean-up works are in full swing. The negotiations on the second phase of the Summer Amphitheatre renovation are underway.

    Over 500 students of Belarus, Russia to gather at Vitebsk youth festival

    Over 500 students from the Belarusian and Russian universities will gather in Vitebsk on May 13 to take part in the oblast youth festival Student Spring 2009 dedicated to the Year of the Native Land, BelTA learnt from Valery Kunashko, head of the youth affairs department of the Vitebsk oblast executive committee.

    This year alongside a concert and an open club for the lightheaded and quick-witted contest, the organizers decided to include a dance and entertainment programme. The jury will define the best university creative companies and winners and prize-holders in seven individual nominations: instrument, vocal-chorus, choreography, theatre art, producing and acting.

    The students are expected to explore the Year of the Native Land topic in the One Day on the Earth concert programme. The lightheaded and quick-witted teams will compete in several sections such as Here We Are warming-up, All the Colours of the Rainbow free-style and Biathlon contest of jokes.

    Partaking in the Student Spring 2009 festival will be student delegations from the Smolensk and Pskov oblasts and St Petersburg.

    The festival aims at developing student creativity, moral and patriotic upbringing of the young generation, friendly relations and cooperation between the students of Belarus and Russia.

    The festival is organized by the Vitebsk oblast executive committee and the oblast committee of the Belarusian National Youth Union.

  • Economics...

    NBRB: no plans to revise currency basket value range

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) does not plan to revise the value range of the basket of foreign currencies, NBRB Chairman of the Board Piotr Prokopovich told media on April 30.

    The stable exchange rate of the national currency will be secured by the value of the basket of foreign currencies and its adjustments within a 5% range through the year. “It is the guarantee of the stability of the national currency that will stay in place through the year. There will be no deviations or revisions in any way. We don’t accept the advice we are given to increase devaluation, expand the range of fluctuations up to 10-15%. The decision made in early January is the optimal one for these conditions. We are not going to revise it,” assured Piotr Prokopovich.

    In Q2 2009 the NBRB plans to reduce the range of fluctuations of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate against the basket of currencies. “We will be working with plus/minus 1% throughout the second quarter. We will see what will be in the third and fourth quarters depending on the situation,” said the NBRB head.

    Belarus meets virtually all IMF standby programme requirements

    Belarus meets virtually all the requirements outlined by the IMF standby programme, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told media on April 30.

    “As far as our indicators are concerned, as of April 1 our net international reserves were $210 million under the requirement. It is an inconsiderable difference. I think we will not hear major complaints from the IMF in this regard,” said Piotr Prokopovich.

    The official attributed the underperformance to objective reasons. “Because neither the mission nor us could foresee what will happen in the world in Q1 2009. Nobody predicted the depth of the crisis that has affected both the CIS states and Europe,” he stressed.

    As far as other requirements (net domestic assets and no budget deficit) are concerned, they are met.

    BelTA reported earlier, an IMF mission tasked with surveying the standby programme started working in Minsk on April 29. The experts are supposed to hold meetings with officials of the National Bank, other government agencies, to discuss the present economic and monetary situation in Belarus as well as the implementation of the standby programme. After the visit the provision of another tranche of the IMF loan to Belarus will be decided upon.

    Belarus to get last part of Russian loan in May

    Belarus expects to get the remaining $500 million part of the Russian loan in May, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told media on April 30.

    According to the NBRB head, relevant amendments to this year’s budget of Russia have been introduced.

    Belarus and Russia have signed an agreement to allocate a $2 billion stabilisation loan to Belarus in 2008-2009. The first part of the loan ($1 billion) was transferred to the Finance Ministry account in the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus on November 18, 2009. The loan is provided to Belarus for 15 years at LIBOR +3% per annum, with the principal redemption delayed by five years.

    Speaking about getting two more Russian loans (RUB100 billion and $2 billion from Sberbank), Piotr Prokopovich said these negotiations were slow.

    National Bank does not rule out refinancing rate cuts in Q3

    The National Bank of Belarus does not rule out the refinancing rate cuts in Q3 this year, chairman of the Board of the National Bank Piotr Prokopovich told reporters.

    “In Q3 there will be an opportunity to start working on gradual reduction of the refinancing rate,” Piotr Prokopovich said. The National Bank will explore this opportunity only if the monthly average inflation does not exceed 1%.

    Today the refinancing rate is 14%. According to the 2009 monetary policy guidelines, the rate of refinancing may be reduced to 10-12% by the end of the year provided the inflation remains within the projected margins (9-11%) and the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble fluctuates as forecasted.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus fears battle for regional influence

    From: FT
    Belarus is anxious that a European Union initiative to strengthen ties with six ex-Soviet states should not turn into a contest between Russia and the EU for "spheres of influence" in eastern Europe, according to Sergei Martynov, Belarus's foreign minister.

    "We are not going to make a choice between the EU and Russia. We are not going to develop relations with one at the expense of relations with the other," Mr Martynov said in an interview with the Financial Times. "In our view, competition for spheres of influence is a totally wrong prism to look at things through."

    He was speaking a week before a summit in Prague next Thursday at which the EU and the six states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - will launch the so-called "eastern partnership".

    Mr Martynov said Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus's authoritarian president since 1994, had still not taken a decision on whether to attend the summit. Some senior EU officials doubt, however, that either Mr Lukashenko or Vladimir Voronin, Moldova's president, will show up.

    On the EU side, Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, and leaders of the bloc's central and eastern European countries are sure to attend, but diplomats said it was unlikely that all 27 EU national heads of government would be present.

    Even without Mr Lukashenko's attendance, the summit points to a thaw in relations between the EU and Belarus, as the state once dubbed "Europe's last dictatorship" takes cautious steps to easing its tight domestic political controls.

    "Both sides understand that trying to ignore each other won't work. We have to engage, work together," Mr Martynov said. "There are many areas where the EU and Belarus are equally interested in co-operation - energy, transit of goods, combating illegal migration and organised crime, adopting EU standards in our industry and economy."

    Mr Martynov indicated that Belarus was unlikely to spring a nasty surprise on the EU next week by emulating Russia and recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia's pro-Moscow separatist regions.

    For the EU, Belarusan recognition would serve as a stark reminder of the extent to which Moscow can shape the foreign policy of its much smaller neighbour.

    "South Ossetia and Abkhazia is a complex issue. We are studying it at an executive level and at the level of our parliament," Mr Martynov said by telephone from Minsk.

    The eastern partnership is designed to promote stability and prosperity in Belarus and the five other ex-Soviet states, without making any promises about possible EU membership.

    This reluctance exasperates Ukraine, which has its sights set on joining the EU, but not Belarus, which has no such aspirations.

    From the EU's perspective, the project acquired extra importance after last August's war between Russia and Georgia.

    For the Kremlin, however, the project smacks of an attempt to extend the EU's influence beyond its eastern borders into a region that for most of the 20th century was firmly under Soviet control.

    Belarus is stuck in the middle - a country that has close historical and cultural links with Russia but also with Lithuania and Poland, its western neighbours, which joined the EU in 2004.

    "If the eastern partnership is handled in the right manner, it can be a joint effort for a Europe without dividing lines," Mr Martynov said.

    Belarus ‘selling Iran Iskander-M missiles’

    From: Tehran Times
    Amid speedy relationship developments between Belarus and Iran, a report says the former Soviet state is selling Tehran the Russian-made Iskander-M tactical missile systems.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday said that he would like to implement top-level agreements with the government of Tehran.

    “We will sacredly fulfill our agreements with Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and expect more activity in projects earmarked for joint implementation,” President Lukashenko said in a message handed to the visiting Iranian Judicial chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

    An article published by Ria Novosti said that the swiftness of relation-building between the two states is an indication that President Lukashenko is selling the short-range missiles to Iran.

    The Iskander-M system is equipped with two solid-propellant single-stage 9M723K1 guided missiles with “quasi-ballistic” capability with a range of approximately 310 miles.

    The report comes shortly after Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar visited Moscow to push for further military cooperation with Russia.

    Iran is also interested in Russia’s sophisticated air defense missiles, the S-300 surface-to-air system, to enhance its defensive prowess against a potential Israeli attack on the country’s nuclear infrastructure.

    Lukashenka not to attend Eastern Partnership summit

    From: Navany
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka will probably not attend a summit in Prague on May 7 at which the European Union is to formally launch its Eastern Partnership program.

    The president of Belarus is not among the registered summit participants, with the registration deadline being over, Jiri Frantisek Potuznik, spokesman for the Czech EU presidency told BelaPAN.

    The spokesman refused to disclose who would represent Belarus at the summit, saying that the list of participants was not for publication. He said that the 27 EU member countries and the six post-Soviet countries to be involved in the Eastern Partnership program – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – would be represented at the summit by their top or next-to-top officials.

    News sources in Prague and Brussels have reported that the Belarusian delegation to the summit will be led by First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka, but government sources in Minsk have neither confirmed nor denied this information. Alyaksandr Tsimashenka, press secretary of Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, told BelaPAN on Friday that he did not know who would lead the Belarusian delegation. The foreign ministry would not disclose the list of the delegation’s members either, but the delegation will certainly include Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw.

    The composition of the Belarusian delegation to the summit will be determined by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the minister told reporters in Riga on April 22 following his talks with his Latvian counterpart.

    The Eastern Partnership, originally proposed by Poland and Sweden in May 2008, is viewed as a new multilateral forum between the EU and the six post-Soviet countries, which would forge closer economic and political ties, lead to visa-free travel deals and the establishment of a free trade zone, and prepare the countries for EU membership.

    The EU leaders said last month that the Eastern Partnership would be used to support political, social and economic reforms in the post-Soviet countries, as well as “will help to build trust and develop closer ties among the six Eastern partners themselves.”

    Polish radio journalist arrested in Belarus over reporting

    From: M&C
    Belarusian authorities have arrested a Polish radio reporter for broadcasts criticising the government and the economy, the Belapan news agency reported Friday.

    Ivan Roman, a Belarusian national working for the Poland-based broadcaster Radio Racja, violated media law with reports of economic and social problems in the former Soviet republic, Belarus KGB security officials in the central province Hrodno claimed.

    KGB agents arrested Roman at home and questioned him at a police station, before releasing him late on Friday.

    Radio Racja transmits from the Polish city Bialystok, near the Belarusian border.

    Roman also publishes the Polish-language Magazyn Polski, an independent magazine aimed at Belarus' ethnic Polish minority.

    He could still face charges of 'discrediting the Republic of Belarus,' a crime carrying a maximum two-year prison sentence, for 'giving foreigners an incorrect impression,' according to the report.

    The KGB officers singled out a report by Roman accurately stating that major Belarusian companies were failing to pay salaries to workers on time due to reduced business and a cash flow crunch.

    'They (the KGB) told me I should report that Belarusian companies are still paying salaries, just a little bit late,' Roman said.

    'But I didn't do anything wrong,' Roman said. 'All I did was report things as they actually are.

    President Aleksander Lukashenko, Belarus' authoritarian leader, keeps a tight control on media, allowing little criticism of the government.

    State-run media repeatedly praise Lukashenko and in recent months have constantly reported that Belarus' economy has suffered less from the international financial crisis than neighbouring countries.

    Belarusians nonetheless face falling incomes, rocketing inflation, and rising unemployment as Lukashenko's government has struggled to adapt Belarus' mostly state-run economy to international economic slowdown.

    In the past Lukashenko has accused Warsaw of attempting to undermine his regime by funding ethnic Polish opposition in Belarus, and anti-Belarus propaganda originating in Poland.

    Polish officials have denied the allegations.
  • Editor's Note: It's a good start, but they can do better.

  • From the Opposition...

    On May 1 riot policemen disbanded solidarity rally in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    In Minsk riot policemen were beating up participants of the peaceful rally of solidarity with political prisoner Mikalay Autukhovich who had declared indefinite hunger strike. The rally took place on May 1 near the remand prison in Valadarski Street in Minsk.

    Since February 2009 political prisoners Mikalay Autukhovich, Uladzimir Asipenka and Yury Lyavonau are kept in the remand prison in Minsk.

    50 activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” and “Young Front” gathered near the remand prison with portraits of prisoners of conscience, with the streamer “Freedom to political prisoners!”, a national white-red-white flag and European flags.
    Oppositionists were chanting: “Freedom to political pruners!” and “Long live Belarus!” Coordinator of the Charter’97 Zmitser Bandarenka, youth leaders, activists of the “European Belarus” Zmitser Barodka, Yauhen Afnagel, Paval Yukhnevich, Maxim Vinyarski have taken part in the rally as well.

    Protesters stated that they have come to support Mikalay Autukhovich, as his life is seriously menaced today. Afghan war veteran, who had been awarded Red Banner order and “For courage” medal, Mikalay Autukhovich suffers from pancreatitis, and indefinite hunger strike can kill him.

    10 minutes after the rally started, a paddy wagon packed with riot policemen arrived to the remand prison. Protesters were encircled, and there was an attempt to push them away. Riot policemen were seizing portraits from the hands of protesters and trying to tear them.

    Demonstrators sat on the ground as a protest holding portraits of the political prisoners. Riot policemen surrounded the people sitting on the ground, preventing them from moving anywhere.

    The deputy commander of the Internal Affairs department of Maskouski district of Minsk was in command of the policemen. He ignored the decision of the Supreme Court of Belarus that people with portraits I their hands do not violate the Law on mass events, and stated that an unsanctioned rally was held in front of the remand prison.

    Participants of the peaceful rally were harshly driven away from the territory near the remand prison. Riot policemen were hitting the protesters on back, kidney area and legs. Riot policemen were doing that sneakily, by fists and legs. A former political prisoner, a youth leader Andrei Kim was beaten up. Demonstrators were in fact led under police escort to “Frunzenskaya” metro station with systematic blows being delivered.

    Solidarity rallies of solidarity with Mikalay Autukhovich who had declared a hunger strike, as well as with Yury Lyavonau, Uladzimir Asipenka are to take place daily at 6 p.m. in October Square in Minsk.

    As we have informed, activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Dzmitser Barodka and Maxim Syarheeu filed applications for holding a picket in Minsk park of People’s Friendship on May 1. In an answer signed by the deputy chairman of Minsk city executive committee M. Tsistyankou is was said that Minsk city executive committee hasn’t sanctioned holding a picket, as it is out of keeping with parts 5 and 6 of the Article 5 of the Law “On mass events in Belarus”.

    As noted by the website of “European Belarus”, by their denial officials of Minsk city executive committee has demonstrated not only a disrespect to the Constitution and rights of a citizen, but legal ignorance. The 5th part of the Article 5 of the Law “On mass events” to which Tsitsyankou referred to, hasn’t been published yet and hasn’t come has entered into legal force.

    Head of World Association of Belarusian Jews Gutman calls on Lukashenka to stop demolition of synagogue in Luban.

    From: Viasna
    Moshe Feistein
    Yakov Gutman, head of the US-based World Association of Belarusian Jews, calls on President Lukashenka to stop the demolition of an early 20 century synagogue in the town of Luban, Minsk region.
    Yakov Gutman stresses that the synagogue bears a memorial tablet to one of the most famous rabbis of the 20th century Moshe Feistein, whose is name is sacred to the Jews across the world. He says that the projected demolition of the synagogue will be viewed as a continuous campaign of destructing Jewish churches in Minsk, Jewish cemeteries in Hrodna and Mazyr, and other memorials.

    ‘We should like to believe that the incident in Luban is the result of misunderstanding by the local authorities and has nothing to do with the state policy. Chair of Luban District Executive Committee Vasil Akulich found it unnecessary to reply to the letter,’ said Mr.Gutman.

    Baranavichy court leaves rally conduction regulations unchanged

    Today Baranavichy Town and District Court has considered the claim by the human rights activist Siarhei Housha, lawyer Karnei Piatrovich and For Freedom member Viktar Syrytsa against the decision of 17 January 2006 by the town authorities regulating the procedures of holding mass actions.

    Judge Mikalai Silmanovich resolved to turn down the claim.

    According to Siarhei Housha, the decision virtually outlaws any mass actions in the town. It violates both the Law on Mass Actions and the Belarusian Constitution, as well as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Belarus.

    The activists say they are going to appeal the verdict at a superior judicial body.

  • Around the Region...

    Russia Digs In Alongside Breakaway Territories

    From: NYTimes
    Russian border guards on Saturday began taking up long-term positions along the boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, an arrangement that will probably mean sustained tension in the two breakaway Georgian territories.

    Security treaties signed on Thursday in Moscow between Russia and the two territories called for joint patrols in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for an unspecified period along the boundaries that separate the enclaves from the rest of Georgia. The State Department expressed “serious concern” over the arrangement, saying it violated Georgia’s territorial integrity and broke commitments made in a cease-fire agreement reached last fall.

    The territories were at the heart of a war last August between Russia and Georgia; the conflict raised tensions between Moscow and the West to a level not seen since the end of the cold war. Heavy Russian armor poured into both territories after Georgia attacked Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Russia then officially recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign nations, despite protests from Europe and the United States, and promised to guarantee their security.

    Russian troops have been at the territories’ border since August, but the security pact signed on Thursday makes their role formal and permanent. It grants Russia’s border guards, a division of the Russian Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., any land or buildings needed to patrol the area. It also grants Russian border guards many of the rights of Abkhaz and South Ossetian citizens.

    In an interview, Abkhazia’s president, Sergei Bagapsh, said 500 Russian border guards — not Defense Ministry troops — would perform joint patrols alongside 300 Abkhazians until Abkhazia could train enough personnel to secure the 60-mile border.

    He said Abkhazia had negotiated for some changes to the agreement, among them ensuring that guards at the crossing in the Gali region, which has a large ethnic Georgian population, would be Abkhaz rather than Russian.

    “People will be going to the markets; you cannot stop life,” he said. “We don’t want to build a Great Wall of China between Abkhazia and Georgia.”

    But Georgian authorities said the move to long-term postings was dangerous. Shota Utiashvili, a senior official in Georgia’s Interior Ministry, said that though Russian soldiers had been staffing checkpoints since August, he worried that F.S.B. units “might be more willing to stage operations” along the Georgian border.

    He said Georgian authorities were watching to see how heavily fortified the border would be.

    In a statement released on Friday, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said Russia “once more draws a line between itself and the entire international community, and again brutally tramples on fundamental standards and principles of international law.”

    Bucks County Man Pleads Guilty in Russian Underage Sex Scheme

    From: KYW and RT
    A 38-year-old Bucks County businessman has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he traveled to Russia to have sex with children sold into prostitution.

    Assistant US attorney Michelle Morgan-Kelly says that defendant Andrew Mogilyansky, who has dual Russian-American citizenship, preyed on children and molested them:

    "He admitted to leaving Philadelphia and traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct -- in other words, sexual conduct with minors -- and to actually doing that by going to St. Petersburg and obtaining three girls who were 13, 13, and 14 respectively from an orphanage, and taking them to his apartment in St. Petersburg."

    Mogilyansky also allegedly established a child brothel and invested money into it to gain profit.

    Other members of his gang were convicted in Russia in 2004.

    According to Mogilyansky’s own estimation, his net annual income in 2006 totaled $ 5.3 million.

    He is a founder of the International Foundation for Terror Act Victims.

    Initially Mogilyansky was facing between 15 and 20 years behind bars if convicted, but after pleading guilty, the charges may be changed from “organizing a brothel” to “sex tourism”. Mogilyansky pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal, with a sentence between about 6½ and 8 years in prison for what Morgan-Kelly has called "vile" crimes.

    Mogilyansky’s case is being tried in Philadelphia though it stems from an investigation carried out in Russia, the Ria Novosti news agency says.

    Ukraine says checking reports of ship seizure by Somali pirates

    From: Ria Novosti
    The Ukrainian embassy in Kenya said it is checking media reports that a Ukrainian-crewed ship was seized by pirates on Saturday.

    Earlier media reported that Somali pirates had seized a Maltese-flagged cargo vessel owned by British company Seven Seas Maritime Ltd. The Ariana, which was attacked in the Indian Ocean, is reported to be carrying UN equipment.

    "The consular service department of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has instructed the Ukrainian embassy in Kenya to check the information [regarding the ship seizure] and get all the details," a press spokesperson said.

    Reuters cited a pirate, who called himself Hussein, as saying "We have hijacked a ship carrying industrial equipment including white cars with the UN logo."

    A Ukrainian cargo ship was seized by Somali pirates in September 2008. The Faina was only released in February after the pirates received a $3.2 million ransom.

    Around 20 warships from the navies of at least a dozen countries are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. According to the United Nations, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, resulting in combined ransom payouts of around $150 million.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Police and protestors clash in Warsaw

    From: The News
    Violence erupted on the streets of Warsaw yesterday as police and protesting train and shipyard workers fought pitched battles outside the Palace of Culture and Science (photo: tvp info).

    Five thousand employees from PKP (Polish National Railways) and several hundred shipyard workers from Gdansk, northern Poland, blocked the city centre around 18:00 CET Wednesday and protested against job cuts.

    Protesters chanted demands, threw firecrackers at police lines and burned tires, causing putrid smoke to drift through the streets of Warsaw.

    Shipyard workers were also equipped with a giant effigy depicting Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

    When the protesters, taking advantage of international media attention gathered around Sala Kongresowa, the location of the European People’s Party congress meeting, attempted to cross security barricades, police intervened and sprayed the crowd with mace and fire extinguishers.

    Three policemen and several dozen protesters were injured and needed medical attention.

    Illegal protesting or police brutality?

    Marcin Szyndler, spokesperson for the city police department, claims that the demonstration became unlawful when protesters ignored police requests to disband.

    Several dozen workers from the Gdansk shipyard have sought official medical examinations citing injury following yesterday’s protests. Deputy head of the shipyard’s Solidarity workers union, Karol Guzikiewicz, stated that “workers are experiencing dizziness, nausea, vision problems, sore throats, some are vomiting blood and most have traces of skin irritation.”

    Guzikiewicz highlighted the fact that, according to him, “It was not actually pepper spray but mustard gas that the police sprayed over the crowds thoughtlessly.”

    The Solidarity member claims that police crossed the line in terms of crowd control procedures, maintaining that they resorted to provocation techniques.

    Maria Pioro from the national Solidarity commission’s information bureau stated: “As a result of brutal police intervention, several dozen people were injured, one shipyard worker is still in the hospital in Plonsk [northern Poland].”

    “Six unionists who were hospitalized in Nowy Dwor, Mazowieckie province at their own request have been released as were 13 others who were hospitalized in Warsaw. On location, under the Palace of Culture and Science, emergency workers treated 32 demonstrators,” reads an official communique from Solidarity headquarters.

    A testimony from Janusz Sniadek, a union representative, condemned the police action, claiming that they used chemical substances against the protesters.

    “We are demanding an immediate categorical explanation of yesterday’s events. That type of provocation can only lead to escalations in tensions and social conflict,” stated Sniadek.

    Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski maintains that the action of the police and the substances they used were all in accordance of the law. He denied accusations that any gas other than mace (pepper spray) was used during the demonstration.

    Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Grzegorz Schetyna, has assembled a commission to investigate the conditions surrounding Wednesday’s protests in Warsaw.

    “There were attempts to jump over the fence and the demonstrators acted aggressively. That is why police were forced to react,” stated Schetyna Thursday morning.

    Schetyna added that the protesters were granted permission from the Warsaw city government for a peaceful demonstration.

    “After several minutes, the contract was broken and completely unnecessary aggression broke out,” claimed the Deputy Prime Minister.

    The workers were demonstration in the face of job cuts on the state railways, after management said that they plan to close thousands of kilometers of track, claiming unpredictability.

    And anger has grown since the European Commission recently rejected restructurisation plans at Gdansk shipyard and demanded cuts in production capacity, which would mean large amounts of workers being made redundant. The Minister of the Treasury is set to negotiate a new restructuring plan for the Gdansk shipyard between the 11-15 May

    Poland threatened by depopulation

    From: Polskie Radio
    By 2060 the population of Poland will drop by one fifth and there will be one employee for two pensioners, predicts the European Statistical Office.

    In the years 1997-2007 the number of Poles decreased by 175,000, according to the Main Statistical Office (GUS). But the pace of changes is now speeding up.

    The birth rate in Poland, which was recently higher than in previous years – influenced by the recent economic boom - will start dropping in two years, predicts Eurostat. Polish society will grow older, which may lead to a situation when there are not enough employees and too many pensioners.

    In 50 years Polish cities will be depopulated as the number of inhabitants will drop significantly. The process already affected Lodz, centre Poland.

    Business magazine Parkiet claims that Poland, in order to prevent depopulation, should provide Polish women with better economic conditions to give birth. It should also take more interest in attracting immigrants.

  • Sport...

    Belarus upsets Finland in shootout at worlds

    From: USA Today and USA Today
    Oleg Antonenko scored a winning overtime penalty for the second time at the ice hockey world championship as Belarus gained an extra point after tying Finland 1-1 on Saturday.

    The result gave Belarus six points and a likely spot in the quarterfinals. It will progress if heavily favored Canada beats Norway on Sunday.

    Belarus took the lead in surprising fashion, with Sergei Demagin scoring just five seconds in with a wrist shot past Finland goaltender Pekka Rinne.

    Andrei Mezin then kept the Finns at bay for most of the game, conceding only a power-play goal in the second period to Janne Niskala.

    That set up penalty shots and Antonenko, who scored twice in Belarus' surprising shootout win over Slovakia, was again the hero.

    His opening score was offset by Petteri Nummelin's goal, with Jarkko Immonen and Mikhail Grabovski then trading goals. Given second attempts, Antonenko then wristed another into the net while Nummelin shot wide.

    Belarus beats Norway 3-2 in overtime

    Ruslan Salei scored in overtime Thursday to help Belarus beat Norway 3-2 at the ice hockey world championship.

    Trailing 2-0 in the second period, Belarus fought back for its second OT victory in its four matches. Salei scored the decisive goal with 25 seconds left in the extra period.

    The Group F game opened play in the second stage of the 17-day tournament, which has now split into two six-team groups. The top four in each advance to the quarterfinals.

    Norway led at 6:15 of the first period on a shot from Patrick Thoresen in the slot. The Norwegians added another in the first minute of the second period on a power play. Belarus lost Alexander Riadinski for high sticking, and 12 seconds later Mats Trygg scored an unassisted goal.

    Belarus tied the match on power-play goals from Alexei Ugarov at 2:45 of the second and Mikhail Grabovski early in the third for his third goal of the tournament.

    Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin, playing in his ninth world championship, had 38 saves for the win.

    Norway reached the second stage with an overtime victory over Denmark on Wednesday, but carried forward no points because it lost earlier to Finland and Czech Republic, who also advanced. Belarus carried two points from the first stage thanks to a shootout win against Slovakia.

    Later in Group F, 2007 champion Canada was to play the Czechs.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus and the Dilemmas of the Eastern Partnership

    From: Jamestown
    On May 7 the Eastern Partnership Program (EPP) will be inaugurated at the EU summit in Prague. Belarus has been invited to take part, a decision that has not only angered some EU leaders, but also poses legal and economic dilemmas for all concerned. However, it is still uncertain whether the Belarus' president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, will attend in person, particularly if he is likely to face public criticism.

    Last week, Andrei Sannikou, the international coordinator of Charter 97 and the European Belarus civic movement, stated that on April 14 he had also received an invitation to the Prague summit. However, he will not take part, despite the fact that he supports Belarus' integration into the EU. His reasons were that there are currently three political prisoners languishing in Belarusian jails: Mikalay Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Asipenka. Belarusians are being forced to emigrate because of continuing political repressions; political parties and NGOs are refused the right to be registered, peaceful demonstrations are dispersed by force, and young activists are being forcibly drafted into the military (, April 24).

    In addition to these comments from a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition, some EU leaders would be very upset to see Lukashenka at the summit. A spokesperson for the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, stated that the Belarusian leader would not be received at Prague castle, nor would the president greet him personally. Meanwhile, the invitation to Belarus has been acclaimed in Moscow, which perceives the summit as an opportunity to gain a foothold in Europe through its neighbor (, April 21).

    Russia is equally aware that there are inherent contradictions in Belarus being a member of both the Eastern Partnership and the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc). The latter, formally established in 2000, created a single economic space between its members, with the formation of a free trade zone. In addition to Russia and Belarus, it includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Belarus is also a member of the Russia-Belarus Union, which is arguably a less important body in that its founding Constitution has never been finalized.

    In a thoughtful analysis, Darya Sologub noted the potential problems that might develop. The EPP anticipates a free trade zone, but before this can take place, its members must be members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Belarus is not a member of the WTO and has no immediate prospects of acceptance. The EPP stipulates that customs control will function based on the borders of the partnership states. Yet there is currently no official border between Russia and Belarus -indeed upon entering Belarus, visitors are obligated to fill out a customs form of the Russia-Belarus Union. The notion of a visa-free regime critical for many Belarusians -who currently still have to buy EU visas- raises the question of what would happen in the case of Russians entering Belarus, potentially crossing the border into another EPP country. Belarus in theory can take part in European energy security and defense initiatives too, but once again it already has such relationships in place with Russia ( April 27).

    One reason for Moscow's support is that its leaders may have gleaned that for Belarus to take part in any meaningful projects, it will require Russia's membership of the EPP. In this respect, Belarus would not be leaving the Russian orbit, but potentially providing a wider swathe of influence for Moscow. In the absence of its Russian partner, Belarus can still gain prestige through the EPP. In particular, a leader and cabinet excluded from European capitals for the past two years could gain new credibility, as long as the demands on Belarus are not too stringent. Lukashenka has reportedly made one private trip to Europe already, and on April 27 he made his first official visit -meeting the Pope in the Vatican. At that meeting he extended an invitation to Benedict XVI to visit Belarus in the near future (Narodnaya Volya, April 27).

    As for the EU, its new policy of engagement with Belarus is logical in that isolation achieved very little. But it has also opened the door to some serious legal questions, particularly over where the jurisdiction of the EurAsEc ends and that of the EPP begins. Also, as Sologub highlighted, the financial incentives provided by the EPP may be somewhat limited: Belarus may receive $21 million as opposed to the $11 billion it has already received in loans and credits from Russia (, April 27).

    In the meantime, all sides involved in these issues are focusing on the potential benefits, such as Belarus becoming more active on the European stage. But in the longer term, the EPP will have great difficulty in establishing any meaningful integration of the country because of its close ties and commitments to Russia. In mid-April, as part of the agreement for joint air defense, for example, Russia agreed to supply Belarus with the advanced S-400 Triumph anti-aircraft and anti-missile interceptor system (Jane's Defense Weekly, April 17). In short, integration with Russia is proceeding apace alongside the efforts to bring Belarus into the EPP.