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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Elections scheduled for early 2011, Capital punishment, Afghan opiates, Russian gas, Ukraine, Customs Union; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #455

    Belarus President elections scheduled for early 2011

    From: BelTA
    Elections of the Belarus President will take place at the beginning of 2011 while elections to local councils of people’s deputies will take place in the second half of spring 2010, presumably in April. The terms were set on 20 October as President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with Lidia Yermoshina, Chair of Belarus’ Central Commission for Elections and National Referendums.

    All candidates will enjoy equal terms during the presidential elections and the elections to the local councils of deputies. The statement was made by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina on 20 October.

    The press service of the Belarusian head of state quoted Alexander Lukashenko as saying: “I am an adherent of honest, just, and, most of all, open political campaigns, both the elections to the councils of deputies and the presidential elections. I mean that everyone should be given equal terms for preparation and participation in these campaigns. Especially the presidential one”.

    “I would like to state up front: we have always acted honestly and decently however hard we might be accused,” said the head of state. “This is why I think we cannot step back from being honest and decent in holding such events”. Speaking about future elections, Alexander Lukashenko remarked that they “will be unusual campaigns, totally unlike the previous ones. Although the previous ones were not easy for us, due to many circumstances they will be special campaigns, especially the presidential one”.

    On 20 October Alexander Lukashenko decided that the two election campaigns will be held independently. In his opinion, the presidential elections should not be combined with any other election campaign in order to avoid devaluating the essence of the former.

    “Some people say that we should save money and combine the two political campaigns, namely the elections to local councils and the presidential elections. Yes, we would save some money but we would be criticized for holding presidential elections in an alleged chaos. They would blame the president all the same,” underlined Alexander Lukashenko.

    The Belarusian head of state believes that the merger of the two election campaigns would create some chaos and difficulties only for the people, who would have a hard time sorting out ballot papers. Apart from that, there is no economic expediency. “If we held combined elections, we would gain little economic or financial benefits but we would put into question the presidential elections. This is why I believe we should separate these political campaigns. As a large gap as possible should be left for preparations for the presidential elections. That is the elections to the councils should be held first followed by presidential elections,” he said. “Always in an honest and open manner,” he added.

    According to the Belarusian head of state, the presidential elections should not be premature. “Some people say that the economic crisis wasn’t their fault. As long as the situation is bearable, let’s hold the presidential elections ahead of time. But the Constitution does not allow it. We also have a deadline — February 2011 at the latest. I think we should not do it either because it would immediately bring about accusations that the authorities launched the elections when our political opponents were not ready, did not have money, did not get united or disunited. We would be blamed again”.

    “This is why I believe we should create as equal conditions as possible for everyone. If it is possible, we should hold the elections to the local councils next spring (depending on the legislation) while the presidential elections should be held in 2011 however hard the economic and political situation in the country may be,” remarked the head of state.

    “Everyone will see their ratings during the elections to the local councils. They will make relevant conclusions, corrections and will promote their candidates to the elections in 2011. Nobody will be able to blame us for failing to do something. Starting today it will be enough time to get ready for the presidential elections,” believes the President.

    “It is very important for us to understand that thousands instead of hundreds of various observers, well-wishers and ill-wishers will come to us. We should do it. Let them make their conclusions. If someone fears that our situation will change for the worse in 2010, the crisis will continue and the nation will react to it, I should say it is up to the people,” said the head of state.

    “The people have the right to react in a way they believe to be correct. It is impossible to pressure anyone during elections. If things are bad, if we cannot explain to the people that it is not our fault, well, then the nation has the right to make relevant conclusions. We will explain it to the people (our people are competent and wise, they will understand the situation), we will explain it to the nation, even if the situation gets worse, if the nation believes us, I will say thank you. It is up to the nation to decide,” stressed the President. “It seems to me that if we hold honest elections, we have a chance of going into history as honest and decent people”.

    On 20 October the President also made an important decision regarding the liberalization of the Belarusian election laws. The Central Election Commission will submit several proposals meant to implement several suggestions of the OSCE and Belarusian political parties to the Belarus President. The suggestions envisage facilitating the nomination of candidates for deputies, measures for additional protection of ballot boxes, measures to make preterm voting secure and several other technical things that need perfecting. Lidia Yermoshina remarked that some proposals suggest the things that Belarus uses already but now they will be regulated by legislation.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the elections should be held in line with the Belarusian Constitution and the laws that exist today. “If we step back from the Constitution following a demand of Europe, America, eastern neighbors or someone else, it means we will doubt the document itself,” remarked the President. “We have been criticized for it, too, but we courageously and firmly acted within the framework of our Constitution. The Constitution is sacred, this is why we will hold our elections within the framework of our Constitution, within the framework of the laws that exist today,” said the head of state.

    “If within these laws it is possible to make the climate more liberal (and we have such experience), me and you should do it so that we would not be reproached for usurping the power, for dictatorship and holding the elections the way we want. This is why I am an adherent of the most liberal elections,” concluded the President.

    The authority of the Supervisory Board for Information Disputes will be regulated by legislation. The CEC will introduce proposals to make regulations on the council and its authority part of the election laws because the body is very important during campaigning, remarked Lidia Yermoshina.

    The term of office of the incumbent Belarus president expires in early 2011, this is why the presidential elections are supposed to be held by 7 February 2011 at the latest. The elections to the local councils of the people’s deputies are supposed to be held by 13 December 2010 at the latest. A presidential election is supposed to be held at least two months before the term of office expires. This is why in line with the Constitution and election laws the presidential elections will be held in early 2011 while the elections to the local councils of deputies will be held earlier. The deputies will lose about half a year because election campaigns have to be stretched in time rather considerably, said Lidia Yermoshina.

    As an election campaign lasts for three months, Belarus will launch the local councils election campaign in January 2010, remarked Lidia Yermoshina. “We are on the verge of a major political season that will affect all aspects of the country’s life,” she added.

    Summing up results of the talk, Lidia Yermoshina said that the meeting had been very saturated and had allowed determining the strategy of the CEC operation as well as the operation of legislation improvement agencies to a large extent.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    EC: abolition of capital punishment is prerogative of Belarusian authorities

    From: BelTA
    Jean-Eric Holzapfel, representative of the European Commission in Belarus.
    The abolition of capital punishment in Belarus is in the exclusive competence of the Belarusian authorities, said Jean-Eric Holzapfel, representative of the European Commission in Belarus.

    “It is the issue that should be dealt with by the respective authorities in Belarus,” Jean-Eric Holzapfel said.

    According to the European Commission, the moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus is among the cornerstones of the further Belarus-EC relations. “We hope that Belarus will introduce moratorium on capital punishment, but this issue is within the scope of authority of the Belarusian leadership,” the representative of the European Commission underlined.

    Justice Minister of Belarus Viktor Golovanov stated that the abolition of capital punishment is “within the scope of authority of the Belarusian people”. The Minister reminded that the 1996 referendum revealed that the majority of the people were in favour of preserving the capital punishment.

    Capital punishment is in effect in 86 countries worldwide, including Japan, US and China. “Nobody says that these countries are undemocratic,” the Minister said. He added that “the brutality of some crimes makes you doubt that they were committed by a human being.”

    The Minister noted that the Constitutional Court of Belarus has ascertained that legal conditions for the abolition of capital punishment are in place in Belarus.

    Sergei Maskevich to partake in discussions on Eastern Partnership parliamentary dimension

    Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, will take part in a session dedicated to forming the parliamentary dimension of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. The session will take place in Stockholm on 21 October, Sergei Maskevich told BelTA.

    The event is held as part of Sweden’s presidency over the European Union and is the first official discussion about mechanisms able to create an inter-parliamentary structure of the Eastern Partnership.

    “A meeting of chairmen of international affairs committees of the parliaments of the Eastern Partnership member states will take place in Stockholm. The format of parliamentary cooperation in this initiative has not been determined yet. Participants of the forthcoming session will take care of agreeing principles and mechanisms of the future parliamentary dimension”, said Sergei Maskevich.

    Belarus’ participation in the meeting will give an opportunity to make a positive contribution to creating the parliamentary component of the Eastern Partnership. It will demonstrate the openness and readiness of Belarusian parliamentarians for effective contacts and good neighborly cooperation, underlined Sergei Maskevich.

    CSTO Secretariat to take part in roundtable to discuss illicit trafficking of Afghan opiates

    From: BelTA
    The Secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization will take part in the expert roundtable which will discuss the illicit trafficking of Afghan opiates in Western Europe. The roundtable will be held within the framework of the Paris Pact in Paris 22-23 October, BelTA learnt from the CSTO Secretariat.

    The roundtable will analyze the current and future tendencies of illicit trafficking of Afghan opiates in Western Europe, identify the measures to reduce supplies and demand for heroin in Western Europe, discuss the cooperation of Western European countries and their neighbors in fight against drugs trafficking.

    “The CSTO Secretariat supports UN’s statement that drugs trafficking today is one of the most important problems of the civilization security along with the challenges of nuclear war and ecological disaster,” the press service reported. One of the most import goals of the Collective Security Treaty Organization is the organization of the joint activity of the CSTO participating countries to counteract illicit drugs trafficking. During the Dushanbe summit in April 2003, the CSTO member countries passed the resolution on fight against drugs trafficking simultaneously with the package of the decisions on setting up the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

    According to the press service, the CSTO has developed the common ideology and practice of the collective measures aimed at fighting against turnover of drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors. The CSTO has been carrying out the operation Canal since 2003.

    Apart from the CSTO member countries, the Canal operation joins 19 countries and such international organizations as OSCE, Interpol, the Eurasian Group on combating money laundering and financing of terrorism and others.

    The Collective Security Treaty Organization is interested in developing the concrete anti-drugs programs aimed at counteracting the illicit drugs business.

    The Paris Pact was signed in 2003. The document envisages the international cooperation in fighting against trafficking of Afghan opiates via the territory of Iran, Pakistan, Central Asia, Russia, Turkey and the Balkan region.

    Belarus urges equal income prices for Russian natural gas

    From: BelTA
    The natural gas price Belarus pays should be set taking into account the delayed transition to equal income prices in Russia, First Deputy Energy Minister of Belarus Eduard Tovpenets told media on 20 October.

    “Reducing the prices Belarus pays is not the point. We should be synchronized with Russia in reaching equal income prices,” said Eduard Tovpenets. If Belarusian companies buy natural gas at European prices, while Russian companies pay much less, it would be very hard for Belarusian economic operators to stay competitive in these conditions. It is necessary to enable equal economic conditions for businesses in the two countries, he stressed.

    Yet the First Deputy Energy Minister does not expect the talks about the next year’s price for Russian gas to be simple. “One should not forget that there is a contract and Russia will insist that the price it stipulates should be used,” he said.

    Eduard Tovpenets remarked that Belarus believes in getting an acceptable gas price in any circumstances.

    In his words, the Belarusian delegation has not gone to Moscow to negotiate the next year’s gas price with Gazprom yet. The date of the talks has not been agreed yet.

    Election results in Ukraine will not affect the relations with Belarus, Piotr Poroshenko says

    From: BelTA
    The results of the presidential elections in Ukraine will not affect the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations, Foreign Minister of Ukraine Piotr Poroshenko told Pervyi TV Channel on 19 October.

    According to him, in Ukraine both the authorities and the opposition have a positive and friendly attitude towards neighboring countries. “The election campaign in Ukraine is quite vigorous as a rule, even amid the political crisis. The crisis, however, does not have any impact on the relations with Belarus,” Piotr Poroshenko said.

    It has been earlier informed that the election campaign took start in Ukraine on 19 October. The elections will take place on 17 January 2010.

    Among those who are to run for presidency in Ukraine is sitting President Viktor Yushchenko, Chairman of the Supreme Rada Vladimir Litvin, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, Leader of the Party of Regions Viktor Yanukovich, ex-Chairman of the Parliament Arseny Yatsenyuk, other Ukrainian politicians and public figures.

    Yulia Timoshenko to visit Belarus soon

    Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko will visit Belarus in the near future, First Vice Premier of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov told reporters after a session of the Belarusian-Ukrainian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation on 20 October.

    “I hope that in the near future the Ukrainian Prime Minister will visit Belarus,” Alexander Turchinov said. According to him, the presidents of both the countries will have a meeting in the near future as well.

    Alexander Turchinov noted that despite the global economic crisis, the cooperation of Belarus and Ukraine intensifies. According to him, the economies of both the countries have started to restore the most important economic performances. “We will have a considerable economic growth next year,” the Ukrainian First Vice Premier is sure.

    Summing up the results of the session, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko noted that despite a decline in the trade, in 2009 Belarus and Ukraine intend to reach more than $3 billion of the mutual trade. Both the countries expect a zero balance of the mutual trade.

    During the session of the Belarusian-Ukrainian Intergovernmental Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, the sides signed the protocol on cooperation in various areas including industry, agriculture, transport, science, medicine and others.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Vitebsk oblast to host Belarus-Russia soldier festival

    From: BelTA
    The ninth festival of friendship between army youth of Belarus and Russia “Fellows in Arms” will be held in Vitebsk, Lepel and Beshenkovichi (Vitebsk oblast) on 22-24 October, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

    Taking part in the festival will be the servicemen of separate battalion No. 357 and brigade No. 103 of the Armed Forces of Belarus and representatives of air assault forces of the Armed Forces of Russia.

    The programme of the festival includes excursions to historical sites, museums and monuments of the Vitebsk oblasts, meetings with the youth, competitions, lessons of courage, and concerts of army amateur bands.

    Minsk hosts exhibition of Italian Renaissance black letter books

    An exhibition, Italian Books in Belarus of Bona Sforza’s Times, was opened at the Book Museum of the National Library in Minsk on 19 October. “The exhibition showcases unique publications, but the main exhibit item is the illustrated Dante’s Divine Comedy published in Florence in 1481,” said Julio Prigioni, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy to Belarus, at the exhibition’s opening.

    The exhibition is dedicated to the 9th International Week of the Italian Language. The event is organized by the Italian Embassy in Belarus and the National Library of Belarus as part of the Italian Renaissance in Belarus cultural campaign.

    Julio Prigioni said that there are many Italian Renaissance books in Belarus. They were parts of private and church libraries, and now they are kept at the National Library and available for public access.

    “Julio Prigioni initiates various cultural events, and therefore, contributed to the strengthening of Belarusian-Italian ties. Belarus and Italy are going to sign an intergovernmental agreement on cultural cooperation,” said Viktor Kurash, Deputy Culture Minister of Belarus.

    The exhibition is dedicated to the black letter books published in Italy in the 15th-16th centuries. The exposition presents the Italian black letter publications of Greek and Roman philosophers such as Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero, alongside with books of the Italian authors including Francesco Petrarch and Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli.

  • Economics...

    Belarus, Ukraine to come up with joint projects within Eastern Partnership

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Ukraine will come up with joint infrastructure projects within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Program, First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Semashko said following a session of the intergovernmental Belarusian -Ukrainian mixed commission for trade ad economic cooperation in Minsk on 20 October.

    “We agreed that Belarus and Ukraine will generate the projects in transport and energy infrastructure to develop them for the benefit of the two countries,” Vladimir Semashko said. All these issues are reflected in the final protocol of the session of the Belarusian-Ukrainian mixed commission.

    According to Vladimir Semashko, the Eastern Partnership participating states are considering organizational issues, establishing regulations. In his words, it is time that the concrete projects were launched. “It is worth thinking over an infrastructure project to develop the 9th transport corridor connecting the Baltic states, Scandinavia and the South,” Vladimir Semashko noted. The idea was supported in the European Union in May. “I think we should work jointly with Ukraine and invest in the transport corridor development,” Vladimir Semashko said.

    Vladimir Semashko stated that the sides would continue discussing such projects and submit the relevant proposals “The Transport, Energy, Architecture and Construction Ministers have been commissioned to prepare the proposals by the end of the year,” Vladimir Semashko said.

    Belarus views East-West transport corridor as promising project

    Belarus views the East-West transport corridor that runs across Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, and China as a very promising project, said Nikolai Verkhovets, First Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication of Belarus.

    “We will want China to transport its cargoes to Europe and Baltic seaports through the Belarusian territory. The Western Europe -Western China route is a very interesting and much needed direction,” said Nikolai Verkhovets.

    According to him, the sides are currently considering the additional traffic volume that Belarus could get within the framework of the project.

    The declaration on the East-West transport corridor was signed in Vilnius on 19 October.

    Iran’s Onerbank registered in Belarus

    Onerbank with 100% Iranian capital has been registered in Belarus, BelTA learnt from the information department of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB).

    In line with NBRB Board’s Resolution No 171 of 16 October 2009, the National Bank of Belarus issued a license for banking activity to the closed joint stock company, Onerbank.

    Onerbank was founded by Bank Refah Kargaran, Saderat Bank of Iran and the Export Development Bank of Iran. The bank’s authorized fund is Br46.71 billion (over €11.5 million).

    The new bank will be working with corporate and retail deposits, banking corporate accounts. The bank will provide settlement and cash services to individuals and juridical entities including correspondent banks, conduct currency exchange operations and offer factoring services. The bank is entitled to issue bank guarantees, securities and banking plastic cards.

    As of 20 October 2009, there were 32 banks in Belarus, 26 of them are with foreign capital.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus leader vows liberal electoral laws to West

    From: Reuters
    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he was ready to liberalize electoral laws, sending a new signal that the ex-Soviet nation was seeking better relations with the West.

    As ties with Belarus's ally Russia sour, Lukashenko has sought to improve relations with the West which has urged Minsk to liberalize electoral laws, allow free registration of civic organizations and guarantee media freedom.

    In 2006 the European Union imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe's last dictator by a former U.S. administration. But the EU lifted its visa ban last year as a reward for freeing political prisoners.

    "If within the framework of these (electoral) laws we can ensure the most liberal climate ... then we must do it together with you," Lukashenko's press service quoted him as telling Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidia Yermoshina.

    "We must do it also not to be reproached yet again for usurping power, establishing a dictatorship here and holding elections here the way we please. This should not be the case. This is why I am a supporter of the most liberal election."

    Lukashenko, still widely popular in his Slav nation of 10 million, was referring to a presidential election due in early 2011 in which he will seek a new five-year term.

    The veteran leader, in power since 1994, has overseen constitutional amendments which his critics say can make his presidency eternal. The West has not recognized a single election held in Belarus under Lukashenko to be free and fair.

    A docile parliament with no opposition deputies was elected last year, to criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the EU.

    "The decision adopted today by the president is about liberalizing electoral laws," Lukashenko's press service said. "The Central Election Commission will make a number of proposals to the head of state aimed to meet some proposals made by the OSCE and Belarussian political parties."

    Moscow has watched with unease Lukashenko's flirting with the West. It particularly objects to Minsk's participation in the EU's new "Eastern Partnership" cooperation initiative for ex-communist states, which it views as anti-Russian.

    Moscow has also so far failed to persuade Minsk to recognize the Russian-backed Georgian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a move that would spark the West's condemnation.

    Lukashenko signs Belarus up to post-Soviet rapid reaction force

    From: RIA Novosti
    The president of Belarus has signed documents on joining a post-Soviet regional security bloc's rapid reaction force, the secretariat of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) said on Tuesday.

    Alexander Lukashenko had resisted signing the treaty establishing the Collective Rapid Reaction Force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization amid economic disputes with Moscow earlier this year.

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

    Lukashenko did not attend the June summit in Moscow at which the agreement creating the force structure was signed, citing trade problems with Russia and Kazakhstan, while Uzbekistan has also held out against signing the pact, citing doubts over the force's purpose.

    The joint force on Friday finished a two-week exercise at Kazakhstan's Matybulak training grounds, with over 7,000 personnel from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan taking part.

    According to the CSTO Secretariat, the exercise was aimed at practicing the deployment of the collective rapid reaction force in crisis situations on the territory of CSTO member states.

    Analysts say the creation of a powerful military contingent in Central Asia reflects Moscow's drive to make the CSTO a pro-Russian military bloc, rivaling NATO forces in Europe.

    Russia's security strategy until 2020, recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, envisions the CSTO as "a key mechanism to counter regional military challenges and threats."

    Customs Union in Final Stretch

    From: St. Petersburg Times
    A woman walks past trucks at the Belarussian border. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are to unify their Customs Code.
    The creation of a customs union for Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has entered the home stretch, with a deal to be signed in late November giving the countries a unified Customs Code, external borders and even import duties on cars.

    The three countries’ presidents will sign a package of documents creating the customs union in Minsk on Nov. 27, including unified customs rules and one duty for products that fall under restrictions on import and export, said Igor Petrishenko, a Belarussian deputy foreign minister, Interfax reported Wednesday.

    Under the plan, the union will begin operating Jan. 1, and customs points will be removed on the Russia-Belarus border. On July 1, 2011, the customs inspections will disappear on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan.

    Kazakhstan will finish installing customs posts on its southern border by the end of 2010, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov promised Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Earlier, two Russian officials involved in the negotiations told Vedomosti that the government was concerned by the lack of demarcation along Kazakhstan’s borders.

    A source in the Russian government said the main questions about creating the union have been resolved and that they were “working feverishly.” On Wednesday, the union’s commission has a meeting planned, and “a colossal number of additional decisions need to be approved,” he said.

    The unified customs rates from 2010 will reduce Russia’s annual revenue from tariffs by about 1 percent, said Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Slepnev. But there will be no changes on the country’s main tariffs, he said. Import tariffs on foreign cars, for example, will be leveled off at the Russian levels.

    The fact that Russia was demanding to keep the high import tariffs on light vehicles was also announced by Anatoly Vaskov, chairman of the Eurasian Economic Community’s interparliamentary commission. “Tariffs are tariffs, but you need to protect your producers. For Russia that’s very important,” he said.

    Russia’s import duty on new cars is currently 30 percent, but not less than 1.2 euros to 2.8 euros per cubic centimeter of engine capacity. For cars that are three to five years old, it is 35 percent but not less than 1.2 euros to 2.8 euros per cubic centimeter. For cars older than five years, the rate is 2.5 euros to 5.8 euros per cubic centimeter.

    Belarus and Kazakhstan have lower import duties, Slepnev said, adding that it was possible that there would be a transition phase during which each state would keep its own duties on cars. The current tariffs in Russia will expire in mid-2010, and it is unclear what will happen after, he said.

    The creation of the customs union won’t have much of an effect on trade ties among Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, which already have a free trade zone, said Sergei Prikhodko, managing director of the Institute for the Economy in Transition.

    Russia has never particularly placed much value on real integration, political scientist Mikhail Vinogradov said. “Just look at our ‘friendly’ relations with Belarus lately. Every time the Russian authorities say the latest ‘yes’ on some matter, it means, in essence, ‘no.’”

    Maxim Medvedkov, director of the Economic Development Ministry’s department for World Trade Organization accession, told Vedomosti that the three countries could announce a restart to entry talks Thursday.

    UN calls on Belarus to halt execution

    In Belarus - the executioner shoots the victim in the back of the head with a silenced pistol
    The United Nations has echoed Amnesty International’s call to halt the imminent execution of a man accused of murdering of six elderly women in Belarus.

    Vasily Yuzepchuk was sentenced to death on 29 June. His lawyer says his investigation and trial were fundamentally flawed and that Yuzepchuk was beaten to force him to confess.

    Valery Yuzepchuk’s lawyer submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, which was registered on 12 October. The Committee has now called on the Belarusian government not to execute Yuzepchuk until it has considered the case.

    “The Belarusian government has voluntarily taken on the obligation to allow for complaints to the Human Rights Committee. To execute Valery Yuzepchuk in the face of a request by the Human Rights Committee would undermine the effectiveness of this remedy,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s expert on Belarus.

    Vasily Yuzepchuk, originally from Ukraine, belongs to the marginalized Roma ethnic group. He may have an intellectual disability and his lawyer has stated that he is illiterate and unable to distinguish the months of the year.

    Yuzepchuk has alleged that he was beaten while in pre-trial detention on two separate occasions in January and in March.

    The Belarus Supreme Court recently rejected an appeal against his death sentence. Vasily Yuzepchuk was officially informed of this on 13 October and has 10 days from that date to apply for clemency from Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka.

    Belarus is the only country in Europe and Central Asia still executing prisoners.

    "The Belarusian authorities must immediately declare moratorium on all executions and death sentences. They must commute without delay the sentences of all prisoners currently on death row to terms of imprisonment," said Heather McGill.

    The use of the death penalty in Belarus is compounded by a flawed criminal justice system that administers capital punishment in a manner that violates international laws and standards pertaining to the death penalty. There is credible evidence that torture and ill-treatment are used to extract "confessions".

    Condemned prisoners are given no warning that they are about to be executed and they are usually executed within minutes of being told that their appeal for clemency has been rejected.

    They are taken first to one room where and told their appeal for clemency had been turned down. They are then taken to a neighbouring room where they are forced to their knees and shot in the back of the head.

    Their families will only be informed days or sometimes weeks after the execution that their relative has been executed, and they are not given the body or told of the burial site.

  • From the Opposition...

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich: Regime takes less repressive action

    From: Charter '97
    It has been stated by “For Freedom” movement leader in a few hours after brutal disband and arrests during the solidarity rally in Minsk.

    On October 19 on air of “Radio Svaboda” Alyaksandr Milinkevich, “For Freedom” movement leader, was asked the following question: “Critics of the current policy of the European Union state that the situation with human rights in Belarus has not improved, but deteriorated over this time, since August-September last year, and possibly even deteriorated. Lukashenka is guzzling away the IMF credits and European money, and he does not think it is necessary to make concessions in the sphere of liberalization. As a result, reinforcement of the dictatorship due to Western money, as opponents of the new European policy and your opponents say. Are they right?

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich answered to this question:

    “I would not agree to this position. I do not think that Belarus is already a free and democratic country, but there is certain headway in the atmosphere of social and public life. It is controversial, but there are figures. Belarusian human rights activists have calculated that the number of repressed people who addressed them over the 4 month of this year, as compared to the same period of the last year has decreased several times. It does not mean that the regime has become three times less repressive, but it represses less and more carefully. We know such a phenomenon as politically motivated conscription, a political prisoner Dubski has appeared. So I would not say that it has become worse. It has become insignificantly better. But we must fight for the authorities to become obliged to make these steps. I can say firmly that there is less fear now among democratic activists”.

    As we have informed, on October 16 a rally of solidarity with political prisoners and disappeared politicians was disbanded in Minsk in October Square. 22 activists of opposition were arrested, the United Civil party leader Anatol Lyabedzka was beaten up till bleeding. Secret services completely blocked the work of journalists: 3-5 riot policemen were encircling journalists, covering lenses of their photo- and cameras, pushed away and even hit journalists.

    Capitally convicted person pleas for mercy

    From: Viasna
    On 16 October the lawyer of Vasil Yuzepchuk, sentenced to death penalty for alleged murder of six elderly women, has lodged an appeal for pardon with President Lukashenka. The convict asks to spare his life, due to possible future circumstances that may prove his innocence. In case the verdict is executed, and such circumstances are established, is will not be able to be corrected.
    Belarusian human rights activists have expressed their concern over the upcoming execution.

    ‘We do hope for an objective and unbiased consideration of the case, since the supreme value of human life is at stake. We hope the Board for Pardons will make effective steps towards the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus, and a positive decision in the case of Vasil Yuzepchuk may be their first move’, says Uladzimir Labkovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna.

  • Russia...

    US: Russia not complying with Georgia war truce

    From: AP
    In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili, right, speaks with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow during their meeting in Tbilisi. Portrait on wall is of Ilia Chavchavadze, (1837-1907) a Georgian writer, poet, journalist and lawyer who spearheaded the revival of the Georgian national movement in the second half of the 19th century, during the Russian rule of Georgia.
    Russia is not complying with the cease-fire that ended last year's war with Georgia, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday, adding that Washington wants international observers in Russian-controlled territories.

    The statement by U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow underlined one of the touchiest disputes overshadowing the U.S. and Russian leadership's desire for improved relations.

    Two Georgian territories broke off in the August 2008 war and now host thousands of Russian troops. Russia recognizes the regions as independent and says that independence supersedes the cease-fire brokered by the European Union. The EU cease-fire had demanded that troops be pulled back to prewar positions and allowed international observers into the conflict zone.

    European Union monitors are deployed in Georgia, but not in the two breakaway territories — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — which only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed Russia by recognizing as independent.

    "We do have concerns about the lack of full compliance by Russia with some elements of the August 2008 cease-fire agreement," Vershbow said after meeting with Georgian officials.

    "We discussed these issues with Russia. We are also trying to find ways to put international eyes and ears, an international presence, back into the occupied territories in order to contribute to a de-escalation of tensions," he said.

    There have been sporadic reports of shootings and explosions in the border areas.

    Since the war, Russia has repeatedly complained about U.S. military assistance to Georgia, saying this rewards an aggressor. Russia also vehemently objects to Georgia's push to eventually join NATO.

    Vershbow defended the assistance and Georgia's ambitions to join the Western military alliance.

    "We are working together with our Georgian friends on a long-term program of assistance to Georgia's efforts to carry out its defense reforms and defense modernization and to ultimately improve its candidacy as a prospective member of NATO," he said.

    Last year's five-day war started with a Georgian artillery barrage on the capital of South Ossetia. Georgia claims it was forced to launch the assault after Russia sent military columns into South Ossetia.

    An EU-commissioned report concluded last month that Georgia began the war, but criticized Russia for years of provocations and rising tensions.

    The Russian military quickly occupied large regions of Georgia during the war and damaged much of Georgia's military before later withdrawing.

    Hollywood starts shooting film on Russia-Georgia war

    From: Guardian
    Andy Garcia in the role of Mikheil Saakashvili in the presidential office in Tbilisi
    His fans portray him as a plucky leader defending his small country from Russian aggression. The Kremlin depicts him as an unstable madman, fond of chewing his own tie. But now Hollywood is to give its own take on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's controversial pro-US president, in a new movie set during last year's Russia-Georgia war.

    The leading US actor Andy Garcia plays Saakashvili in the film, which began shooting in Georgia earlier this week. Directed by Renny Harlin – whose previous credits include the testosterone-filled blockbuster Die Hard 2 – the movie follows the fortunes of an American journalist and his cameraman caught up in last August's fighting.

    The PR-savvy Saakashvili has given the project his full support and on Monday even loaned Garcia his cosy presidential office in Tbilisi, complete with leather armchairs, books and a Georgian flag.

    Garcia, as Saakashvili, discusses tactics with his aides amid Russian invasion. The Georgians have also lent the Hollywood producers fighter planes, helicopters, and tanks.

    Observers suggest that Garcia – who starred in The Godfather: Part III – bears a striking similarity to Georgia's dark-haired 41-year-old leader.

    "Garcia does it very well," Zaza Gachechiladze, the editor-in-chief of the Georgian Messenger newspaper said.

    "He's taken on some characteristic features of the president, like when he moves he walks in a very hasty manner."

    Asked whether the film would bear any resemblance to the real events of August 2008 – when Georgia's ill-fated attempt to recapture the breakaway province of South Ossetia led to a punitive Russian invasion – Gachechiladze said: "It depends how the film ends. We are a defeated country. We should admit that."

    He added: "The ruling administration has hinted it wants this film to be shot."

    Saakashvili is still locked in a bitter propaganda battle with his Kremlin enemies over who bears responsibility for the war. A much-publicised EU report by the Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini last month blamed Georgia for starting it. But it also chastised Russia for supplying passports to the South Ossetians, as well as for other misdeeds. Earlier this year Russia's state television premiered its own film about the August war, reflecting the official Russian version of events.

    Speaking in August, Harlin described his so-far untitled film as an anti-war drama. "I've waited a long time to find something with substance and reality," Harlin said. "I want to make a film that says something about the human condition, and even if only a few people see this and feel its impact and its anti-war message, then I will have done something that's important and I will be proud of it."

    "Our main concern was to show war as a bad thing," executive producer Michael Flannigan said, according to Reuters. "We had an opportunity to make a really anti-war film."

    He said the budget was "pretty restrictive", in a departure from Finnish-born Harlin's previous big-budget action thrillers which include Die Hard 2, starring Bruce Willis, as well as Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone.

    Writing in his blog, Harlin last week described the film's screenplay as "brilliant", and said he was busy casting local Georgians for several roles.

    "Spent today with fighter-jets, and make up effects. Things are getting better and better," he said.

    The young and upcoming British actor Rupert Friend plays the lead as a US journalist caught between compassion for the war's victims and telling the truth.

    Yesterday downtown Tbilisi ground to a halt as the filmmakers recreated a patriotic rally on 12 August 2008, marking the end of the war. Demonstrators celebrated Georgia's victory – even though it was Russia that actually won. The leaders of several eastern European countries appeared with Saakashvili in front of Georgia's parliament building in a show of solidarity against Russian attack.

    Lifting the Lid on Russia’s Art of Lavish Gift Giving

    From: New York Times
    Aleksandr Y. Khochinsky paid $869,000 for 26 letters written by Voltaire to Catherine the Great. A client of his wanted to give them to Vladimir V. Putin as a gift, but they disappeared.
    Until recently, Aleksandr Y. Khochinsky occupied a special niche in this capital, known as much for its corruption as for its wealth. He was an antiquarian who specialized in providing high-class grease for the best-connected palms in the government and other high-level circles.

    Harried businessmen would rush in off the streets to his gallery here, Bogema, and think nothing of spending tens of thousands of dollars for the right item to delight the powerful, whether a set of dueling pistols, a suit of armor, antique Rolex watches or a $2 million seascape by the Russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky.

    Mr. Khochinsky prided himself on his talent for finding the perfect gift. “Tell me only a few details about the man,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “Is he a hunter, a fisherman, does he chase women? I can find a gift.”

    Normally, the world Mr. Khochinsky navigated so successfully is hidden from view. But now, after a very delicate transaction that he says went horribly wrong and left him accused of blackmail by a powerful figure, he has decided to lift the veil on the cozy world he knows so well.

    There is little chance that the dispute that has embroiled him and forced him to leave the country will be resolved; in Russia, high-level spats like this seldom are. But the deal, as described by Mr. Khochinsky, illuminates an aspect of life here for people at the intersection of business and politics at the highest levels, including the most powerful politician of them all: Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.

    The current entanglement began with the purchase, in 2006 at a Sotheby’s auction in Paris, of 26 letters written by Voltaire to Catherine the Great, dating from 1768 to 1777. Mr. Khochinsky said he bought them for $869,000 — a world record for 18th-century handwritten texts, according to Sotheby’s — for a Russian billionaire who had made his money in banking and real estate.

    Handing a little something to a bureaucrat is an old tradition in Russia — popularly known as giving “greyhound puppies,” a reference to a Nikolai Gogol character who accepted only puppies as gifts.

    Sergei V. Bobovnikov, a dealer in late imperial and Soviet-era decorative art, says artwork and antiquities make fine gifts for bureaucrats today, either to keep or to donate to museums. Bureaucrats, he said, “are buried in these gifts on their birthdays, anniversaries and so on.”

    Mr. Khochinsky’s client wanted to give the letters to Mr. Putin, who was then president, with the idea that he could then donate them to a Russian library. In this, the billionaire was following a more recent tradition of currying favor with the Kremlin by returning cultural and historic artifacts to Russia. In the most prominent instance, Viktor F. Vekselberg, an oil and aluminum magnate, returned the Forbes family collection of Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs to Russia in 2004, at a cost of $100 million.

    Mr. Khochinsky said he saw special value in the letters as a gift to Mr. Putin. Voltaire, though critical of the 18th-century French monarchy, had famously praised Catherine the Great as an enlightened despot.

    In the letters Mr. Khochinsky purchased, Voltaire also wrote in support of Russian military campaigns in what is now Ukraine and Poland. In essence, here was a pre-eminent European philosopher supporting a leadership role for Russia in eastern Europe, an idea back in vogue in Moscow these days.

    But now, Mr. Khochinsky says, the letters have vanished and he is out the $869,000 purchase price because the gift was not delivered. He says the letters disappeared sometime after he gave them to Russia’s Channel One, a state television outlet, to arrange a televised transfer of the documents to Mr. Putin.

    A spokesman for Mr. Putin said that the prime minister “never saw these letters, and nobody ever gave him anything like this, or will give it to him. I don’t know who bought these letters, but they don’t have anything to do with Putin.”

    Mr. Khochinsky said he filed a complaint against the station and asked the police for help in finding the letters, despite the authorities’ notoriously poor record in solving high-level disputes. In their report, the police say Channel One’s director, Konstantin Ernst, denied that the station had ever received the letters, and accused Mr. Khochinsky of trying to blackmail him by trying to tie him to their theft. Mr. Khochinsky has denied that allegation.

    While it is doubtful anyone will ever know what happened to the letters, one thing seems certain: Mr. Khochinsky’s line of work, if not Mr. Khochinsky himself, will continue to play an important role in Russia. And that is not entirely a bad thing, says Mr. Bobovnikov.

    “Galleries don’t survive on collectors,” he said. “The sweetest scheme is when you have businessmen who need items for gifts. Not for collections. But for gifts. The antiquarian should know what to give. He should understand.”

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Cheating rife, standards plunge in Poland’s universities

    From: The News
    Cheating at university in Poland is “not unusual” and many students say that they would be buy a masters thesis.

    According to a survey by the PSB DGA pollsters, 54 per cent of students reveal that, in their group, cheating is not unusual, while 39 per cent of students claim that tutors do not mind cheating at exams.

    Students do not refrain from buying a Master’s thesis, either. Although 80 per cent of students assure that they would never ask someone to write a dissertation for them, 11 per cent would buy a thesis for over 500 zloty (119 euro) and 9 per cent for less than that.

    Despite the generally held view that Polish universities have a good image abroad, standards have been falling rapidly as numbers rise but finances to not keep pace.

    Lecturers frequently skip lectures due to having a job in more than one place of learning. In one of Poland’s higher schools, students were taught by a deceased teacher who had been recorded on a video tape.

    Meanwhile, intellectual potential of MA graduates has dramatically gone down because of the influx of universities, mainly private ones. Twenty years ago the number of students did not exceed 400,000, today it is almost 2 million.

    However, it seems that neither university staff, nor students notice the inconvenience and the fall of teaching standards. Ninety one percent of university teachers and 84 per cent of students claim that they are satisfied with their performance and the university they work or study at. No one feels anger or shame and just a few students – 19 per cent - are bored (usually at private universities).

    University staff praise themselves for being wise, talented and always prepared for the classes (95 per cent). Students largely support this opinion (87 per cent).

    The survey was conducted between 9-16 October among 1194 students and 367 university teachers.

    Poland among most corrupted EU countries

    No new news here
    Poland is not among top nations in Europe. Unfortunately the measured value is not the GDP, but level of corruption. Poland is ranked in top three just behind Romania and Bulgaria.

    According to Transparency International two out of five managers offered a bribe to public official. No wonder that Poland was ranked 28th out of 30. The situation in Bulgaria and Romania is only worse - reports

    Those reports are confirmed by a poll made by CBOS. Poles think that politics and health service are the most corrupted areas of our lives. Only 4 per cent of Poles are strongly against corruption. It is not surprising as, in public view, 98 per cent of officials matters can be dealt with "an envelope"(common way to give money in Poland).

    The border guards warned about swindlers

    Yet another swindler who pretends to be a policeman
    Polish border guards informed about the swindler who pretends to be a policeman. The criminal has already swindled 400 zloty from Polish driver.

    The swindler stopped Polish car and thought up a crime committed by the driver. He ordered 400 euro as a penalty, but the Pole had no European currency so gave him 400 zloty. False policeman took money and said that he would write a ticket. But he came into his car and drove toward Svidnik. Polish driver informed Slovakian police about this incident. The swindler was 30-35 years old wearing black shirt and blue jeans. He was about 180 centimetres in height. The police is trying to find the criminal.

    He killed a dog to know how it felt to kill

    A male from Zielona Góra stabbed a dog with a knife couple of times. The animal died due to wounds. It was supposed to be a try before murdering a man.

    This crime was committed couple of days ago in of Zielona Góra's parks. The man told about it to his colleagues, making it known that he wanted to know how it was to kill, so he would be able to kill a man.

    Public prosecution has made an application to arrest him, but the judge decided to send him to hospital due to his poor state of health.

    For killing a dog he can be locked up for up to 3 years.

  • Sport...

    Vladimir Samsonov wins table tennis World Cup

    From: BelTA
    Vladimir Samsonov
    Belarusian table tennis player Vladimir Samsonov won the Liebherr Men's World Cup in Moscow on 18 October.

    Samsonov (No6 in World rating) progressed into the final after beating Ma Long (No2) – 4:3 (7:11, 11:5, 8:11, 11:4, 14:12, 8:11, 11:8).

    In the final game he outscored Chen Qi from China - 4:1 (11:4, 5:11, 11:7, 11:5, 13:11). It was the third time that Samsonov won the World Cup. He also did it in 1999 and 2001.

    Vladimir Samsonov also won the European championships in 1996, 1998, 2003, and 2005, the European Top-12 Championships in 1998, 2001, 2007, and the European Champions League in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2007 as Royal Villette Charleroi’s player. Since 2009, he plays in Fakel-Gazprom, Orenburg, Russia.

    Belarusian coach Tatiana Ledovskaya gets European Athletics Award

    Tatiana Ledovskaya, Secretary General of the Belarusian Athletics Federation (BFA) and head coach of the Belarusian sprint team, was awarded with a commemorative diploma at the annual European Athletics Convention in Budapest on 16-18 October, BelTA learnt from Anastasia Marinina, spokesman for the BAF.

    An award ceremony was held as part of the Convention.

    The Woman’s Leadership prize was awarded for the first time. The program that facilitates the women’s role in athletics was established in 2009. Competing for the award were coaches, heads of federations, administrative workers, volunteers, organizers, and journalists. The winner was Tordis Lilja Gisladottir from Iceland.

    Marta Dominguez of Spain became the Best Woman Athlete of the Year. She was first in 3000m Hurdles at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin with the best result of the season (9:07.32). Dominguez was the only European to win a world competition this season.

    The Athlete of the Year award went to Philips Idowu of Great Britain, who took the IAAF World Championships Triple Jump gold in Berlin with a world-leading leap and personal best of 17.73m.

    The Rising Star of the Year awards went to Christophe Lemaitre of France and Karoline Bjerkeli Grovdal of Norway.

    Anatoly Baduev, BFA Deputy President and head coach of Belarus’ national team, was among the participants of the Convention.

  • Endnote...

    Mixed messages revive art of Kremlinology

    From: FT
    It is ever harder to tell when a Russian leader is on message, off message, or even if there is a message. On a host of issues such as Iran sanctions, US missile defence and entry to the World Trade Organisation, there is a growing perception that the Kremlin either can’t make up its mind or is playing an elaborate game of pretending that it can’t.

    After four months of apparent dithering, the Kremlin last week seemed to have reversed its position for a second time on a policy of trying to enter the WTO as a collective trade bloc with Kazakhstan and Belarus, saying it would apply independently.

    Russia’s attitude to western sanctions on Iran, meanwhile, is especially hard to fathom. China, which opposes sanctions, and the US, which supports them, seem to be under the impression that Russia supports their view.

    In semantic terms, the positions of Dmitry Medvedev, the president, Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, and Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, are basically the same but differences of emphasis make Russia’s line difficult to grasp.

    All seem to say sanctions are a possible last resort: Mr Medvedev opposes sanctions but said last month they could be used in extremis . Mr Lavrov declared sanctions “unproductive” but added last week that they could be unavoidable in some cases. On Wednesday Mr Putin said talk of sanctions was “premature” in what was seen as a rebuke to Mr Medevdev.

    Whether this amounts to a different opinion is unclear. One diplomat thought the disagreements were choreographed; another called the Medvedev-Putin routine “good cop, bad cop” while another said it resembled a “Punch and Judy” show.

    So do the different messages reflect the two mens’ different approaches?

    Mr Putin is nationalistic and statist and Mr Medvedev more western-oriented but both routinely blur the boundaries of the constitutional division of labour between them. Mr Medvedev summons ministers and publicly gives them instructions on the economy, which is Mr Putin’s job, while Mr Putin makes foreign policy, which is Mr Medvedev’s.

    “Between them, it is difficult to be certain what behaviour and statements to ascribe to a good cop/bad cop routine to personal ambitions or to real policy differences” write Dimitri Simes and Paul J. Saunders in an article to be published in National Interest journal.

    The WTO application seems to have been one case of clear disagreement The attempt to join the trade bloc was on track to be completed this year. But in June, Mr Putin said Russia would withdraw its application and seek to join with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Judging by their stunned reactions, Mr Medvedev and most senior officials were taken aback.

    Then, Mr Medvedev said separate entry would be “simpler”. Maksim Medvedkov, the chief WTO negotiator, confirmed on Thursday that Russia would seek entry independently of its customs union partners, though their applications would be “synchronised” a word left purposefully vague.

    If this policy sticks, it would mark a significant setback for Mr Putin, the first time he has failed to prevail in a issue of this magnitude.

    Elsewhere, there seems to be a split between hardliners and liberals within the Kremlin. When Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, said last month that a new US missile defence plan represented a threat to Russia, a Kremlin “source” was quoted disowning the comments. That appeared to lend more weight to the notion of a rift. Kremlinology has never been an exact science but it has rarely yielded such diverging results.