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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Belarus remains Russia’s ally, Venezuela, Customs Union, UK universities, Culinary festival, Economic Forum, Cellphone radiation and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #436

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus remains Russia’s only reliable ally

    From: BelTA
    President Alexander Lukashenko and Mikhail Gusman, First Deputy Director-General at the ITAR-TASS News Agency
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko gave an interview to Formula of Power television programme, a joint project of the Itar-Tass news agency and the Rossiya television channel on 13 August, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The interview covered a wide range of issues, including Belarus’ domestic and foreign policy; some personal questions were asked, too.

    Giving assessment to the current state of Belarus-Russia relations, Alexander Lukashenko underlined that Belarus remains a reliable partner of Russia. He stated with regret that the Russians do not know what really happens in Belarus.

    “The political elite of Russia has no idea what is going on in Belarus. They read biased newspaper articles written by people who hate Belarus and then say that Belarus veered to the west. You should better look for information in official sources, you’d better ask me in what direction Belarus has turned: to the west or to the east. They do not know what is happening here,” the President said.

    The President said that he does not understand Russia’s concerns over Belarus’ efforts to establish closer relations with Europe. “Why is the Russian leadership so scared that we engaged in a dialogue with Europe?” the President asked. He added that Belarus’ trade with the European Union has almost reached the level of trade with Russia. “Europe accounts for 45% of our trade and it is billions of dollars. We cannot ignore that. This is why I use politics and diplomacy to promote our economic interests,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The head of state underlined that Belarus remains a reliable ally of Russia. “Do not forget that Belarus is your only reliable partner and a strategic ally. It has always been like that,” Alexander Lukashenko stated.

    Formula of Power is a joint project of the Itar-Tass news agency and the Rossiya television channel. Launched in 2000, the programme has broadcast interviews with over 150 world leaders, including US Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, German Chancellors Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel, President of France Jacques Chirac, King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Spain Juan Carlos, Queen of Denmark Margrethe II, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and almost all leaders of the CIS member states and other top political figures. The scrip of the interview is usually available in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Izvestiya newspapers, Ogonek and Echo of the Planet magazines.

    The interview will be broadcast by the Rossiya television channel on 29 August.

    Alexander Lukashenko wants new crime control bill ready by 1 January

    The system used to distribute the authority over the investigation of criminal cases between government agencies requires substantial corrections. The statement was made by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a government session held on 14 August to discuss the improvement of crime control laws, the press service of the Belarus President told BelTA.

    “There is only one gauge: the system must meet present-day requirements instead of being a stale dogma that everyone is afraid of touching,” underlined Alexander Lukashenko.

    The government session held on 14 August is a logical continuation of the reports that law enforcement agencies are supposed to deliver. This year has seen arguably the largest audits of the State Control Committee, the Interior Ministry and the public prosecution office. “The audits have revealed several problems and simultaneously predetermined ways of improving the operation of these state agencies,” remarked the head of state.

    The top-priority issues include investigative jurisdiction of criminal cases, quality and effectiveness of investigative work, procedural actions and prevention measures.

    The audits have revealed that, unfortunately, in some cases the prosecutor’s authorisation does not prevent disregard of the law, thus it fails to perform its functions. Sometimes slow operation of prosecutors, intended delays in issuing authorisation or denial to issue it become a hindrance to timely crime suppression and holding the guilty liable.

    “Plainly speaking, it is necessary to assess the effectiveness of the existing system that distributes the authority between government agencies in investigating these or those categories of criminal cases,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko. “There is only one gauge: the system must meet present-day requirements instead of being a stale dogma that everyone is afraid of touching”.

    The government session held on 14 August is a logical continuation of the reports that law enforcement agencies are supposed to deliver. This year has seen arguably the largest audits of the KGB, the Interior Ministry and the public prosecution office. “The audits have revealed several problems and simultaneously predetermined ways of improving the operation of these state agencies,” remarked the head of state. “The top-priority issues include investigative jurisdiction of criminal cases, quality and effectiveness of investigative work, procedural actions and prevention measures”.

    As far as the authorisation of police actions by a prosecutor is concerned, the President underlined: “The audits have revealed that, unfortunately, in some cases the prosecutor’s authorisation does not prevent disregard of the law, thus it fails to perform its functions”. Alexander Lukashenko said that prosecutors often tend to “sign on the dotted line”. In turn, officers of law enforcement agencies, state security agencies, other law enforcement bodies shift the responsibility for investigative work and procedural actions to prosecutors using prosecutor’s authorisation as an excuse.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded that he had requested the President Administration to have a closer look at investigative jurisdiction and prosecutor’s authorisation together with interested agencies. A bill has been worked out and submitted to collegial debates due to its significance. In particular, the bill extends the authority of prosecution agencies, Interior Ministry and state security bodies, empowering them to investigate criminal cases they initiate over any crimes. The responsibility of each and every official will be laid down clearly. Government agencies will no longer be able to shift the responsibility to another agency if unlawful actions are taken.

    “Life goes on. Criminal actions become more complicated and sophisticated, therefore we will make the rules they way we need to deal with them,” said the head of state. Compliance with the law is the primary imperative, underlined the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko urged preparing the bill that will amend the regulation of investigative work procedures by 1 January 2010.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Minsk to host session of Belarus-Venezuela high level commission on 17 August

    From: BelTA
    The session of the joint Belarusian-Venezuelan high level commission will take place in Minsk on 17 August, BelTA learned from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    Viktor Sheiman, the co-chairman of the commission will head the Belarusian delegation. The Venezuelan side will be led by Ramon Carrizales, the Deputy Prime Minister of Venezuela.

    The two sides are going to discuss a wide range of issues, such as prospects of social and economic development of Belarus and Venezuela, the further consolidation of the intergovernmental dialogue at all levels, the projects of bilateral trade and technological cooperation and the legal framework of the cooperation.

    The Belarusian delegation consists of the representatives the Parliament, the Supreme Economic Court, ministries, the State Committee for Science and Technology, the State Military Industrial Committee, Belneftekhim and Belgospischeprom concerns, the National Bank, the State Property Committee, the Minsk City Hall and other organizations.

    The Venezuelan delegation includes representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs, science, technologies and medium scale industry, energy and oil, agriculture and land, environment. The delegation is set to hold meetings and negotiations at the ministries, concerns and organizations of Belarus.

    In 2008 the trade between Belarus and Venezuela increased threefold to $173.3 million as against 2007. Belarusian export surged by more than 305% to $173.1 million. The largest Belarusian exporters to Venezuela are the Belarusian Potash Company, BelAZ, MAZ, MTZ, Belagrointorg. Belarus’ major import from Venezuela is coffee.

    In January-June 2009, Belarusian export to Venezuela doubled over the same period in 2008 to $132.5 million. Belarus major exports to Venezuela are potash fertilizers, trucks, tractors, special-purpose vehicles, topographic devices and instruments, trailers and semi-trailers, tyres, road equipment, soil-tillage machines. Export of dried milk totalled $4.8 million.

    Customs Union Commission forms WTO accession negotiating group

    From: BelTA
    The Commission of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan formed the WTO accession working group, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Igor Shuvalov, told reporters on 12 August.

    The negotiating group consists of representatives of the three countries. They are experienced negotiators. The chairman of the group, the Russian expert Maxim Medvedkov, had previously handled the WTO accession negotiations for Russia.

    “The working group will be officially formed by 24 August and will get down to the negotiations without delay,” said Igor Shuvalov.

    “The group will hold talks on behalf of the Customs Union and each country individually. We can join WTO as common customs area on some legal points, and as individual states on the others," said Igor Shuvalov.

    “The simultaneous WTO accession of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan will be the priority of the negotiating group. It is our common strategic goal,” said Igor Shuvalov.

    Public Administration Academy to establish cooperation with UK universities

    From: BelTA
    Nigel Gould-Davies
    The Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus plans to establish cooperation with British universities, BelTA learnt from deputy principal of the Academy Professor Igor Gancherenok.

    In his words, the negotiations on establishing cooperation between the Academy and UK public administration universities started about a year ago. The Academy representatives and UK Ambassador to Belarus Nigel Gould-Davies discussed a possibility of sharing Belarus’ educational expertise with British universities during a meeting this week. “When your educational programmes are implemented abroad, it offers you a great opportunity to see something new in your theories and improve them,” Igor Gancherenok said.

    Belarusian specialists are also interested in the British expertise in training managerial personnel. “British programmes of training executive staff are among the world’s oldest and the Belarusians might find them very useful,” Igor Gancherenok said.

    The Management Academy has recently stepped up cooperation with universities of the FRG, Igor Gancherenok said. The Belarusian academy has two partners in Germany: the federal management school in Bruehl and one of the classic universities specializing in managerial staff training. One of the best students took an internship programme at the German summer school. A group of Belarusian students will go to Germany ins September on a familiarization visit.

    Igor Gancherenok noted that “the models of the higher learning education in Belarus and the FRG have common roots, which means there are prerequisites for more efficient cooperation.”

    The Management Academy cooperates with the universities of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The academy’s partner in Latvia is the government management school, in Lithuania – several education centers in Kaunas, Vilnius and Druskininkai. “A group of 50 students and professors will soon go for an internship programme to Warsaw University,” Igor Gancherenok informed.

  • Cultural Scene...

    International culinary festival to be held in Brest oblast 16 August

    From: BelTA
    Motalskiya Prysmaki international festival is to be held in the Ivanovo region of the Brest oblast on 16 August, BelTA learn from the main ideology department of the Brest oblast executive committee.

    The culinary festival, first held in 2008, became the winner of the Event. Festival of the Year nomination of the Discover Belarus 2008 national contest.

    In 2009, representatives of the restaurant business of Russia, Ukraine and Poland will demonstrate the art of cooking. Belarusian and foreign experts as well as guests of the festival will evaluate the quality of dishes.

    Guests of the festival will have a chance to learn about the unique traditions of Polesye and taste famous Motol sausages, pies and the best dishes cooked by Motol housewives.

    Guests will be able to visit the exhibition of antique icons, paintings, towels and pillows and the concert of the citizens of the Ivanovo and neighbouring regions.

    The festival is organized by the Ivanovo region executive committee, Belarusian Association "Country Escape" and Brest public council for rural tourism.

    Logoisk to host Navalnitsa 2009 fireworks festival

    Navalnitsa 2009 international fireworks festival will be held at the mountain ski sport and recreation facility in Logoisk on 28-30 August, head of the organizing committee Igor Sidorovich told BelTA.

    Igor Sidorovich noted that European national teams that will participate in Navalnitsa festival perform at the world’s largest shows such as Olympic Games opening ceremonies.

    Partaking in the festival are six teams from France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. All of them are winners of the international festivals and producers of the world shows. The Belarusian team is to perform at the closing ceremony of the festival.

    Each team will fire around 5,000 shots during its performance accompanied by music.

    The jury of the festival consists of representatives of European Fireworks Association and Russian Association of Manufacturers and Demonstrators of Fireworks, team members and organizers of the festival.

    The performances of the fireworkers will be accompanied by the Belarusian rock groups J:Mors, Palats, Lyapis Trubetskoi and some others as well as by the popular Belarusian DJs.

    There is no need for the spectators to worry about their safety, Igor Sidorovich assured. “We have closely cooperated with the oblast administrations for emergency situations. We will take all necessary measures to guarantee people's safety,” he noted.

  • Economics...

    Belarus’ Investment and Economic Forum to be held in Minsk 12-13 November

    From: BelTA
    An organizing committee of Belarus’ Investment and Economic Forum has been established in Belarus. The resolution on this was issued by Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky on 11 August, BelTA learnt from the Office of the Council of Ministers.

    Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov has been appointed chairman of the organizing committee.

    Belarus’ Investment and Economic Forum is to be held in Minsk on 12-13 November 2009. It will be held alongside with the sixth plenary session of the Foreign Investment Consultative Council of the Council of Ministers of Belarus.

    An action plan of Belarus’ Investment and Economic Forum is to be prepared and submitted for approval to the organizing committee by the Economy Ministry and other bodies concerned.

    The chairman of the organizing committee can enlist the services of the state administration bodies and other state organizations subordinate to the government and also the working groups under the Foreign Investment Consultative Council of the Council of Ministers of Belarus.

    Number of airlines operating transit flights via Belarus rises five times

    In the recent years the number of air companies operating transit flights via Belarus has soared five times, BelTA learnt from director of the aviation department of the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Belarus Vadim Melnik.

    “The transit flow in Belarus is not as heavy as in the major international airports. The transit flights via Belarus were launched in large part due to Belavia. There are transit flights from Baku, Yerevan, Tbilisi via Minsk to Prague and Frankfurt. Apart from that, Belavia operates joint flights with other air carriers which number has grown from four to over 20,” Vadim Melnik said.

    “Of course, it is hard to compete with such companies as Lufthansa, Czech Airlines and Austrian Airlines, but this competition encourages us to improve our technologies and services (by introducing more convenient schedules and connecting flights), Belavia Director General Anatoly Gusarov said. “Some flights are operated by Belavia alone, but there are destinations where Belavia faces a tough competition with other air companies. However, we are seeking partnership with them. This cooperation helps pull the prices down and save time for passengers,” he said. The cooperation with such companies as LOT, Aeroflot and Israeli EL-Al enables Belavia to provide an excellent level of customer service.

    Talking about the transit zone in the National Airport Minsk, Vadim Melnik said that it requires modernization and expansion. “We are considering it. This issue has been taken to the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Transport and Communications. We want to expand transit lounges as there is a real need for that. However before we start, we have to make sure that we can afford it as it will require considerable resources,” he added.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    U.S. says wants to work for better ties with Belarus

    From: Washington Post
    Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs
    Ex-Soviet Belarus moved a small step closer to the West on Friday with a visit by the most senior U.S. official since Minsk ordered Washington's envoy out over a year ago.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phillip Gordon held talks with presidential officials -- though not veteran President Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West had accused for years of crushing human rights.

    "During discussions with Belarussian government officials, he (Gordon) stressed the U.S. desire to continue to engage Belarus in a mutual effort to improve bilateral relations," a statement from the U.S. embassy said.

    Belarussian state agency BelTA cited the president's office as saying "the two sides agreed to keep in regular contact" after Gordon met top administration official, Vladimir Makey.

    The comments by both sides moved Minsk and Washington closer to solving the issues of U.S. sanctions and the return of the envoy. That may irritate Belarus's former Soviet master Russia, which sees Minsk as belonging to its sphere of influence.

    Lukashenko has taken steps toward the West in the past 18 months after rowing with Russia over gas prices. Last August, he released the last of what the West called political prisoners.

    The EU has cautiously praised Minsk for this and suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko who then broke his years-long isolation from Western Europe with a visit to Italy.

    But so far, Washington had made no similar moves. It has sanctions in place on some Belarussian companies including Belneftekhim, an oil products group, which brings in a large portion of the country's foreign currency earnings.

    Belarus asked the U.S. envoy to leave in March 2008, arguing Washington had tightened the sanctions. The United States denied this and Gordon had said the two issues were not linked. Minsk's overtures to the West have irked Moscow. Russia is pressuring Belarus to recognize the independence of Georgia's breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a move the EU has made clear would unwind their rapprochement.

    Belarus school uniform company latest to react to cellphone radiation fears

    From: Los Angeles Times
    Andreas Sallmann invented men's briefs that could supposedly block cellphone radiation.
    A textile company in Belarus has come up with a school uniform that supposedly protects kids from cellphone radiation.

    If you can read Russian, you can read the announcement here, otherwise Foreign Policy blogger Evgeny Morozov writes about it in English.

    Morozov, who is from the eastern European country, mocks the announcement, and indeed the possible harm caused to humans by cellphone emissions is highly controversial.

    But there have been several attempts over the years to bring out clothing that supposedly blocks the phone rays. The folks at the textile site note that in 2007 Swiss manufacturer ISA Bodywear introduced men's underwear, invented by Andreas Sallmann, that were made with silver thread to supposedly protect "men's sperm from harmful cellphone radiation."

    Although the company's current site does not seem to offer the briefs, it does incidentally have perhaps the oddest -- yet tasteful -- home page for an underwear manufacturer. It features a man with a goat and a woman playing the accordion.

    Otherwise, notes that in 2002, Levi Strauss launched a line of its Dockers pants with "anti-radiation" pockets. However, this did not keep the company, four years later, from making a deal to put its brand on a cellphone.

    Russian and Belarus Telcos to Begin Deployment Of EPON Fiber Networks

    From: EU/TMC
    According to Teknovus, a developer of access chips and embedded software for the FTTx market has announced that Russian and Belarus telcos have begun deployment of EPON fiber networks using the company’s products.

    Broadband penetration in Russia is expected to grow from 18 percent in 2008 to more than 28 percent by the end of 2010. Many Eastern European telcos are following the EPON testing and deployment process adopted by China Telecom (News - Alert), which began with evaluations of PON technologies in 2006, and now, has more than 14 million EPON-based subscribers throughout the country.

    Paul Runcy, director of carrier marketing at Teknovus said they are delighted about the wins in Russia and Belarus that have a combined population of more than 145 million people.

    “Eastern European telcos and national governments understand the importance of high-speed fiber access communications for business and residential services and for national growth and prosperity,” said Runcy.

    Teknovus’ offerings support EPON at 1G, 2.5G and 10G speeds and allow for the delivery of advanced triple-play services like IPTV (News - Alert) through optical fiber networks.

    In addition, their solutions ensure carrier-grade service management with guaranteed bandwidth per service per user.

    Premier Electric, which distributes electronic components and modules for the telecommunications industry in Russia and Belarus, is one company supporting Teknovus’ EPON projects in Eastern Europe with communications equipment vendors like General Datacomm, Angstrem Telecom and Mikst.

    According to Pavel Katlerov, marketing manager at Premier Electric, Russian and Belarus communications equipment vendors are enabling their respective service providers to cost-effectively deploy fiber-based access networks.

    Prosecutor General’s Office criticizes local authorities for failure to put into commercial use idle properties

    From: Navany
    The Prosecutor General’s Office has criticized the local authorities for their failure to put idle government-owned properties into commercial use and ensure the safety of such structures.

    The authorities came under the criticism following the office’s check into the management of idle properties located in provinces.

    In its conclusion that was sent to the Council of Ministers, the Prosecutor General’s Office recommended ordering the regional executive committees to increase control over the management of unoccupied properties and assign the coordination and methodical support functions to the State Property Committee, said the Office’s press center.

    The check also revealed the abuse of office by some officials in charge of idle properties, according to the report.

    The Hrodna regional prosecutor’s office, for instance, initiated criminal proceedings under Part 2 of the Criminal Code’s Article 426 against the head of a government-controlled agricultural enterprise who is suspected of forging documents in 2008 to sell an old estate on the list of government-protected heritage, a residential house where two apartments were owned by households and a space in the farm’s machine workshop to “private persons.” The pre-trial investigation into the fraud still continues, the press center said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Contacts with investors in Belarus: what is the English for 8?

    From: Charter '97
    Belarusian enterprises cannot work with investors, as their workers do not know English.

    At recent consultations with heads of Belarusian foreign policy agencies Alyaksandr Lukashenka complained that secretaries in reception offices still slam down phone receivers when hearing foreign speech.

    “How are we going to win in foreign markets? Are we going to wait till they start talking our language? It’s a fact that we need cadres’ rotation in the country,” the Belarusian leader summed up.

    A correspondent of “BelGazeta” called offices of directors at a number of Belarusian enterprises, asked one question: “I’d like to talk to someone about your investment portfolio and discuss some plans about creating a joint-venture with your enterprise”.

    “Vorsha’s machine tool works” republican unitary enterprise

    - (Speaks Russian) Could you say it in Russian? No… I simply do not understand anything. Could you send it by fax? (In English) Fax! By fax! Yes? (In Russian) Well, wait, I have forgotten English. 216886. It is (In English) one-two-one… (one-two-three-four-five…) six! (seven…) (In Russian) Well, wait a minute… (Calls another phone). Ira, I have a mental block. What is the English for 8? Hey, say it to me quicker, a person is calling. Eig-ch? Or not eig-ch? After seven! Once again: (in English) after seven, (in Russian) and then “six”.

    “Brest stockings plant” joint stock company

    - One moment (Shouts for somebody). No…

    - I’II call back later

    - No.

    - - I’d like to talk to someone…

    - No.

    “Brest carpets” joint stock company

    -… (Receiver was hanged up).

    “Vitsebsk carpets” joint stock company

    -… (Receiver was hanged up).

    “Pinskdrev” closed joint-stock society

    (Speaks English)

    - Let’s proceed this way: you will send us your proposals, I will translate them and submit them to our director. Are you familiar with our specialization? We are open to foreign investment, but we like first get proposals from your side. I am the director of the export and import department, my name is Victor Filippsky. Write, please, e-mail:

    “Kristall” republican unitary enterprise (Minsk)

    - Sorry, I don’t speak English.

    “Kommunarka” joint stock company (Minsk)

    - One moment. Price, da? Repeat. Repeat after me, for me. (In Russian) Repeat after me, (in English) repeat. My plant “Kommunarka”… (In Russian) in English… Call, please, later.

    Alexander Barazenka got amnestied

    From: Viasna
    Alexander Barazenka
    The figurant of the ‘Process of 14’ Alexander Barazenka has been amnestied. ‘On 12 August I was summonsed to Pinsk city prosecutor’s office and informed about it’, said Mr. Barazenka to BelaPAN.

    ‘Process of 14’ was brought under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization and preparation of actions grossly violating the public order or active participation in them) against 14 participants of a protest action of entrepreneurs, held in Minsk on 10 January 2008.

    On 9 December Tsentralny district court of Minsk sentenced Barazenka to one year of personal restraint without direction to an open prison facility.

    The international organization Amnesty International officially declared prisoners of conscience 11 figurants of the ‘Process of 14’ including Alexander Barazenka.

  • Russia...

    Russia moves to clarify WTO stance

    From: AFP
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (right) and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov pictured in February
    Russia confirmed Wednesday it was prepared to join the WTO as a single state but also firmed up plans to pursue membership negotiations in tight coordination with two other ex-Soviet republics.

    "Legally, we may enter separately," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's influential first deputy, Igor Shuvalov, told journalists as Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus announced creation of a joint group to coordinate their WTO talks.

    His comments appeared aimed at dispelling the confusion caused in June when Putin announced the three countries were halting their individual bids to join the world trade body and would instead seek entry as single "customs union."

    The United States quickly rejected the plan as "unworkable" and the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, said Moscow's apparent change of tack had caused considerable "perplexity" within the WTO.

    International puzzlement over Russia's stance was compounded the following month when President Dmitry Medvedev, in an apparent disagreement with Putin, said single-state WTO membership "seems to me simpler and more realistic."

    Medvedev's remarks, made at the G8 summit in Italy, fueled speculation of a serious policy difference at the top in Russia and the comments from a top Putin deputy appeared to cede primacy on the issue to Medvedev.

    Shuvalov's statement however incorporated ideas from both Putin's plan and Medvedev's traditional approach and it was unclear how far Wednesday's developments would go towards clarifying Moscow's position.

    Russia began negotiations for WTO membership in 1993. Those talks have hit numerous roadblocks over the years -- Moscow has argued they are all political -- and Russia today remains the only large economy outside the WTO.

    Though Shuvalov made clear that Russia was open to joining the WTO as a single state, he suggested this was merely a technicality and affirmed Moscow would work closely with Kazakhstan and Belarus on setting shared customs rules.

    "On certain issues we may enter with the customs union," he said in comments broadcast on state television.

    "The priority is that the accession of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan occur simultaneously and on equal terms," Shuvalov added.

    An aide to Shuvalov said the make-up of the new Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus WTO negotiating panel would be finalized by August 24 and the formal talks with the world body would start immediately afterterwards.

    The joint group will be headed by Maxim Medvedkov, a veteran trade negotiator who's overseen Russia's WTO talks, Shuvalov said.

    Alexei Portansky, head of the information office on Russia's accession to the WTO, an independent expert group, said the authorities were looking for a compromise between solo bids and bloc membership in the WTO.

    "They will look for a happy medium but it will be hard to find the happy medium here," he said, adding that Russia needed to conduct the talks on its own and fast.

    He estimated that Russia each year lost around 2.5 billion dollars as a result of not being in the WTO.

    A source close to the talks reiterated Wednesday there was no conflict within the government on the country's accession strategy.

    "There are no contradictions," he told AFP. "During the talks there have not been any passages regarding alleged existing discrepancies within the Russian leadership on the WTO entry," the source said.

    Clashes Kill Over 20 in Russia Region

    From: NYTimes
    More than 20 people were killed in violent clashes in Russia’s North Caucasus region in the last two days, including a mysterious attack on seven women in a sauna, underscoring the Kremlin’s continued struggles to bring the volatile area under control.

    In one of the first attacks, on Thursday night, about 10 men opened fire with automatic weapons on a police post in the city of Buinaksk in Dagestan, killing four officers, the investigative branch of the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement. The gunmen then entered the sauna complex a short distance away and killed seven women who worked there, in a rare attack on unarmed civilians.

    “After the crime, the unidentified men fled the scene with weapons stolen from the murdered police officers,” Nimizam Radzhabov, a spokesman for the Dagestan prosecutor’s investigative team, told Channel One, a Russian TV station.

    In neighboring Chechnya, a gun battle between the police and two men suspected of belonging to a militant group erupted at almost the same time, investigators said. Both suspected militants were killed in the fight. Four police officers also died, and four others were wounded.

    On Friday, gunmen killed two traffic police officers in Dagestan’s capital, Makhachkala, Interfax reported. Three suspected militants were also killed in Dagestan on Friday in a separate episode.

    The clashes were among the bloodiest to hit the largely Muslim region in recent months, though bloodshed occurs almost daily, particularly in Chechnya, Dagestan and another North Caucasus republic, Ingushetia. This week, Ingushetia’s construction minister was killed by gunmen in his office, just as the republic’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, was planning to return to work after being seriously wounded in a suicide attack on his convoy in late June.

    Most of the violence centers on fighting between the police and various radical Islamist or more secular separatist organizations, some of which are remnants of the militant groups that fought federal forces in Chechnya’s two wars. Also common is violence among organized crime groups and competing ethnic clans.

    Although civilians are targets less frequently, three human rights workers were murdered in Chechnya in the last month. Just this week, the leader of a charity that helped children scarred by the war there was kidnapped and murdered along with her husband, who also worked for the organization. And in July, Natalya Estemirova, who for years had documented the abductions and kidnappings that continue to plague Chechnya, was kidnapped and killed.

    No suspects have yet been named in these cases or in many other murders of prominent human rights workers focused on the Caucasus.

    Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, reiterated during a meeting on Friday with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, his commitment to solving these and other high-profile murders.

    "I have given all the necessary orders, as I did last time, to find the murderers, bring them to justice and punish them," he said. "This is the priority task of all law enforcement agencies."

    Russia: Man Arrested in 15 Hate Killings Over 2 Years

    From: NYTimes
    The police in Moscow have arrested a man suspected of killing 15 people because they did not look Slavic, the Interior Ministry said Friday. The 21-year-old man, who was not identified, committed the murders in 2007 and 2008, the ministry said in a statement. He was arrested in 2008 but escaped, and was captured again on Thursday at a Moscow train station.

    Xenophobic attacks are not uncommon in Russia and are typically committed against immigrants from Central Asia or the Caucasus. Almost 40 people have been reported killed and 200 injured in xenophobic attacks in 2009, the Sova Center, an organization that monitors hate crimes, said this month.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Barred: The Polish anglers who don’t let any get away

    From: Daily Mail
    The one that didn't get away: Fish caught at Billy Evans' lake have gone missing
    Eastern Europeans have been banned from fishing at a lake – after the site owner claimed they were stealing his stock.

    Farmer Billy Evans charges anglers £7 a day at his four-acre lake, which is stocked with thousands of pounds worth of carp, tench, roach and bream.

    Anglers are permitted to keep two of the fish they catch per day from open waters – but
    many private fisheries, such as Mr Evans’s, bar them from taking any.

    Mr Evans, 71, of Field Farm Fisheries in Launton, Oxfordshire, said that there are normally 30,000 fish in his lake but that hundreds have been stolen by eastern European anglers.

    A month ago he erected a large hand-made sign reading: ‘No Polish or Eastern Europe fishers allowed.’ Since then he claims that he has not caught anybody stealing his stock.

    He said: ‘I’ve found groups of Poles bagging up the fish. I’ve been catching them red-handed and have seen them on CCTV leaving with bags of fish.

    ‘I’ve also caught them using barbed hooks, which tear the fish’s mouth when removed
    and can kill them.

    ‘The eastern Europeans tend to fish in groups, not alone, and I caught one group which had four carrier bags full of half-dead fish. I told them it wasn’t allowed and one guy threatened me.

    ‘That was a month ago, and it was then I decided to ban them. Since then they haven’t been back and I’ve not seen anybody trying to steal from me.’

    An Environment Agency spokesman said anyone stealing fish could be prosecuted.

    But Thames Valley Police said no thefts from Mr Evans’s lake had been reported.

    A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: ‘It is unlawful to be refused a service – or not to be given the same standard of service extended to others – on grounds of race.’

    Pole appears on TV to deny rape attack

    A CONVICTED Polish rapist has appeared on TV in his home country to deny attacking a Westcountry woman – a crime for which he is serving a double life sentence.

    Jakub Tomczak, 24, raped a woman and left her unconscious and seriously injured under a van in Redlands Close, Whipton, Exeter, in 2006.

    He was given two life sentences in January 2008, to be served in his native country.

    Tomczak, speaking from his prison cell in Poland, claimed he had nothing to do with the brutal assault which left his victim seriously injured. The TV broadcast has also been streamed across the Internet, with a video clip of Tomczak talking about the night of the rape and his conviction.

    During the interview, Tomczak claims that:

    He had never met the victim until he was charged with rape and brought to court

    Police rushed the case through because they had a suspect

    He would not wish rape on anyone.

    At his trial in Exeter, Tomczak was told he must serve a minimum of nine years before he could be considered for parole.

    A student at the time of the attack, he was living in Monks Road, Polsloe, Exeter.

    In the TV footage, smiling as he talks to the woman interviewer, Tomczak said: "I didn't rape the woman – I didn't know her. I only saw her one time and that was in court on the last day of the proceedings."

    Speaking about the night of the rape, Tomczak said he remembered the city being empty as he walked home.

    "I was drinking with friends and I went back to the hotel that I was working at to pick up some cigarettes," he said.

    "I then went straight to my home about 2am or 3am. The city was empty. You can see all of this on the CCTV recordings.

    "I wasn't drunk – I drank about two to three beers."

    Tomczak told how he later returned to Poland where he received a call from his sister telling him that Exeter police wanted a DNA test from him.

    He said: "I went to a Polish solicitor straight away and then went to the Polish police to have a DNA test taken.

    "I went to a solicitor as I was afraid the UK police would not give me a fair trial. My solicitor said they were taking the DNA to eliminate me, not to accuse me.

    "The UK police found my sperm on the woman but no fingerprints or blood.

    "I am still pleading not guilty. The UK police wanted to close the case quickly as they had a suspect."

    Justice Minister’s son refuses court

    From: The News
    Krzysztof Czuma, son of Justice Minister Andrzej Czuma, will not go to court despite the fact that a SKOK office in Wolomin, a Warsaw suburb has been attempting to sue Czuma for not repaying credit.

    SKOK, a savings and loan financial institution, has fined the younger Czuma for not making payments for credit on his computer firm – a sum of 2,000 zloty (486 euro) plus interest.

    SKOK has been attempting to get the money for two years, yet the Justice Minister’s son has not responded to court orders. On 30 June, courts ordered police to bring Czuma to courts. A trial date is set for 21 September.

    Justice Minister Czuma has disassociated himself from the legal proceedings.

    “Being the son of a Justice Minister comes with responsibilities – and definitely mandates respect for the court,” comments the daily Rzeczpospolita on the matter.

    Jail for illegal software use?

    From: Polskie Radio
    Two architects from Gdansk, northern Poland, could spend up to 10 years in prison for using illegal software in their office.

    Wednesday, Gdansk police seized eleven computers with 46 illegal graphic and architectural programs installed on them. According to police, the illegally-downloaded software is worth more than 360,000 zlotys (88,000 euro).

    “We entered the architecture office after we were informed about that infringement,” Magdalena Michalewska from the Gdansk’s police told the Polish Press Agency.

    Polish law envisages five years of imprisonment for using illegal software but, in this case, two 35-year-old architects can face their punishment doubled as the owner’s loss of money was very serious.

  • Sport...

    Marina Zanevskaya is 4th at Junior World Track Cycling Championships

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian Marina Zaneuskaya was 4th in scratch race at Junior World Track Cycling Championship in Moscow on 13 August.

    Australia’s Amy Cure won the 7.33 km scratch race ahead of Czech Lucie Zaleska and Lithuanian Aleksandra Sosenko.

    The 4th place of Zanevskaya is the best result of Belarus’ cycling team at the tournament. The UCI Junior World Track Championships, Moscow, Russia will end on 15 August.

    Max Mirny of Belarus into doubles semifinals in Montreal

    Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Israel’s Andy Ram defeated Likas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic and Philipp Petzschner from Germany 6:2, 6:3 in the doubles quarterfinals of Rogers Cup, Montreal, Canada.

    Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (world No.9) lost to Jelena Jankovic of Serbia 5:7, 6:7 in the third round of the Cincinnati Open.

  • Endnote...

    Citizen of Georgia seeking asylum in Belarus

    From: Navany
    A citizen of Georgia applied for asylum in Belarus earlier this week.

    The 37-year-old man contacted officers of the Brest Border Group after arriving at the Makrany checkpoint from Ukraine on August 11, the State Border Committee told BelaPAN.

    The Georgian’s application is being processed by the citizenship and migration office of the Brest regional police department.

    The State Border Committee said earlier this week that the number of Georgians attempting to travel through Belarus to the European Union was on the rise.

    More than 1,200 Georgians crossed the border into Poland in Brest in the last month alone. However, about half of them were turned away by Polish border guards, according to the Committee.