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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Customs Union, EU relations-Bans, Foreign trade, UNDP, WiMAX; Culture Innovation, Sport, Economics, Opposition, Big trucks and Polish scandal...

  • From the Top...
  • #463

    Alexander Lukashenko concerned about Belarus’ interests in Customs Union

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko doubts whether Belarus’ interests are well taken care of in Customs Union regulations. The Belarus President made the relevant statement at a cabinet session held on 17 November to discuss the Customs Union formation, BelTA has learned.

    “Speaking directly, I am concerned about whether Belarus’ economic and foreign policy interests are sufficiently protected and fully taken into account as Customs Union terms are agreed,” said the President.

    Minsk is expected to host a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council in late November. The session will mark the beginning of the operation of the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. “On the eve of the final decision I expect everyone, primarily, the government, to provide a full and comprehensive report about the results secured during the preparations. Will the Customs Union be able to handle the problems we faced in the Union State development?” wondered the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the Belarusian side expects the Customs Union to be a quality new integration institution based on equal rights and mutual benefits, free choice of goods and services, universal non-tariff regulations, equal business operation terms, removal of unjustified barriers from the mutual trade. “I know that both Kazakhstan and Russia have negotiated several provisos regarding the most vulnerable things,” remarked the President. In his words, Russia and Kazakhstan are alike in some things because they have hydrocarbon raw materials. According to the Belarusian head of state, it means that they will be consolidated in their actions.

    “Our economy is totally different. For instance, if the Customs Union involved Ukraine, it would be simpler because the two economies are similar. With our economy we can be left alone,” said the President. Alexander Lukashenko remarked that Belarusian negotiators are not sufficiently aggressive. “It seems that we have accepted things as they are (I may be wrong), yielding our positions and getting nothing substantial in return except for assurances and promises,” said the head of state. “I would like to warn you that I will not accept promises that you will deal with things later. Decisions must be made now. We know how these assurances are implemented”. “In the past we often failed to take care of our national interests in time and then later the heads of state would have to work them out. This is not how things should be done,” he added.

    The President remarked that he had several doubts regarding the unified customs tariff which is supposed to be enacted as from 1 January 2010. “The government reports that the document is agreed and prepared to be signed by the heads of state,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “Have pros and cons been calculated for every commodity? Have Belarusian organizations and companies been contacted regarding their interests and preparations for new business operation terms?”

    The President believes that all concessions should be mutual and balanced. Alexander Lukashenko said that at present it is unclear whether Russia will lift export duties on oil and whether the Customs Union will have common pricing regulations for natural gas and other energy resources. “I am not convinced by claims that these issues will be dealt with as part of the Common Economic Space. Assurances, oaths and promises are not acceptable. Decisions must be made now. We should see concrete decisions,” stressed the head of state.

    According to the President it is unclear how customs duties on imports from third countries will be distributed between the budgets of the three countries. It is unclear whether Belarus’ budget will incur losses because of this. “Will we be able to compensate for the lost profits from cooperation with third countries by participating in the Customs Union, which is formed primarily on Russian terms?” wondered the President. “It should be borne in mind that Belarus’ participation in the Customs Union has a deep geopolitical sense. As part of the Customs Union, Belarus loses part of its economic sovereignty in trade dealings with third countries and threatens interests of some domestic producers to some degree”. The Belarusian head of state is also interested whether Belarus will be able to secure better access to and presence in the markets of Russia and Kazakhstan.

    Alexander Lukashenko told government officials that their evaluations of negative consequences for the country’s economic and political security will be used as the foundation for making the final decision on Belarus’ accession to the Customs Union. “You must understand that any error, any misjudgment will cost dearly for the country and the nation. You can make conclusions yourselves,” said the President.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Normalization of Belarus-EU relations “suspended once again”

    From: BelTA
    Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov
    The complex modernization of Belarus-EU relations has been “suspended” once again. The statement was made by Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov in response to a question about the conclusion the EU Council made on Belarus on 17 November.

    “The conclusion reflects the emerging tendency for normalizing relations between our country and the European Union. In particular, it is confirmed by the declared readiness of the European Union to develop the legal base of relations with our country and the intention to start talks on facilitating visa regulations for Belarus citizens,” said Andrei Popov.

    He remarked that Belarus has been repeatedly suggesting settling down these problems for a long time. “We confirm the readiness for tight and result-oriented practical work with the European Union regarding the mentioned issues and all other key matters in our relations. The same fully applies to Belarus’ active and productive contribution to implementing the Eastern Partnership Initiative,” added the Foreign Ministry Press Secretary.

    Naturally the pace and content of the improvement of societal and political relations are determined in Belarus solely by interests of the development of the society and the state. “Unfortunately, the suspending of the complex normalization of the bilateral relations, the restrictive measures still used by the European Union against Belarus contradict the logic of the Belarus-EU dialogue and bear the stain of dual standards, disallowing reaching the level of cooperation that would suit interests of both sides,” concluded Andrei Popov.

    EU Council calls European Commission to consider reducing visa cost for Belarus

    Taking into consideration the importance of expanding interpersonal contacts, the Council of the European Union calls the European Commission to consider easing visa regulations for the citizens of Belarus and signing a readmission agreement with our country. This statement was among the EU Council conclusions on Belarus announced on 17 November, BelTA has learnt.

    Apart from that, the EU Council confirms its readiness to expand cooperation with Belarus and therefore calls the European Commission to develop a draft interim plan of priority reforms that can be implemented in Belarus within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy.

    The Council decided to suspend travel restrictions for some Belarusian officials till October 2010, but did not abolish them completely.

    The Council stated that since October 2008 new opportunities for promoting dialogue and expanding cooperation between Belarus and the EU have emerged; the Council welcomes Belarus-EU high level dialogue and Belarus’ more active participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative which is meant to enhance mutual understanding and provide a venue for addressing topical issues.

    At the same time the Council of the European Union points out to the lack of progress in the liberalization of registration procedures and activities of political parties, public organizations and NGOs as well as independent mass media in Belarus. The Council expressed its regret about several death sentences in Belarus. The European Union calls Belarus to introduce moratorium on capital punishment.

    Belarus’ foreign trade 37.6% down in January-September

    From: BelTA
    In January-September 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade in goods and services shrank by 37.6% in comparison with the same period in 2008 to $38.9 billion, BelTA learned from the National Statistics Committee.

    Belarus’ export decreased by 41.2% to $17.6 billion while import dropped by 34.3% to $21.3 billion. In January-September 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade deficit amounted to $3,772.7 million. This year the foreign trade deficit is projected at $1.47-1.5 billion.

    The National Statistics Committee attributed the reduction of the foreign trade to the falling average prices for exported and imported products and to shrinking supplies caused by the world crisis. The average export prices fell by 32.5% down on January-September 2008, with the average import prices down by 22.8%. In real terms export went down by 16%, import – 15.5% down.

    In January-September 2009 the trade in commodities totaled $35 billion, with export as high as $15 billion, import — $20 billion. In actual prices the export of goods fell by 43.3% in comparison with the same period last year, import of goods — 34.8%. The deficit of the merchandise trade amounted to $5,021.3 million while it was $4,245.1 million in January-September 2008.

    Export and import operations with intermediate goods (energy resources, raw materials, and components) were the main source of the foreign trade deficit. Belarus imported $14.7 billion worth of intermediate products (37.2% down on January-September 2008) and exported $10.6 billion worth of intermediate products (45.4% down). The deficit of the foreign trade in energy resources amounted to $2.4 billion.

    In January-September 2009 the export of Belarusian investment goods plunged due to the falling demand. The reduction is one of the causes behind the $634.8 million deficit in the trade in this commodity group. In January-September 2008 the surplus of the export of Belarusian investment goods stood at $537.4 million. In January-September 2009 the export of road and construction machines amounted to only 18.3% as against January-September 2008, export of trucks and truck tractors — 22.9%, special-purpose vehicles — 28.1%, trailers and semitrailers — 35.2%, tractors — 45%. At the same time Belarus imported more metal-working machine-tools, equipment for bonded fabric production and finishing, gas turbines, brewing industry equipment, and other products.

    In January-September 2009 the surplus of the foreign trade in food totaled $454.5 million, up by 120% in comparison with the same period of last year. Meanwhile, food export shrank by 6.5% in cost terms. In particular, the export of condensed milk and powdered milk, pork, canned fish, cheese and cottage cheese decreased. Belarus imported less pork, vegetable oils, frozen fish, macaroni products, non-alcohol beverages, apples, pears and juices. The deficit of the foreign trade in non-food consumer goods reached $641.8 million.

    In January-September 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade in services totaled $3,983.7 million (77.3% as against January-September 2008). The export of services amounted to $2,504 million (78.7%), import — $1,479.7 million (75.1%). The surplus stood at $1,024.3 million.

    Information centers for sustainable development to be set up across Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Five information centers for sustainable development will be set up in Belarus, BelTA learnt from Oleg Belyachits, coordinator of the EU/UNDP project, Sustainable Development at the Local Level. Oleg Belyachits is taking part in the training “International experience of sustainable development of territories: potential and effects of the Local Agenda-21”.

    The information centers will be set up in the regions where local communities are most active in promoting sustainable development. “We do not stick to a territorial principle. We will open the centers in the regions which are ready to develop local agendas-21 and the initiatives which will benefit the whole region,” said Oleg Belyachits.

    The centers will work on popularizing the idea of sustainable development as well as supporting declarants to develop and implement local initiatives and distribute such practices in all pilot regions.

    Although the information centers for sustainable development are to be set up within the framework of the EU/UNDP project, Sustainable Development at the Local Level, they will continue functioning after the project is completed, he said. “We believe that local initiatives are a lengthy process. People often meet, cooperate and help each other develop the idea of sustainable development at the local level,” Oleg Belyachits said. The project is to be completed in H2 2010. Over $1 million has been allotted for its implementation.

    Connect CIS Summit to discuss information society development

    The participants of the Connect CIS Summit that will be held in Minsk on 26-27 November will discuss factors determining the development of an information society. The forum will be structured into six sections, Deputy Communications and Informatization Minister of Belarus Nikolai Strukov told a press conference on 17 November, BelTA has learnt.

    In his words, the whole world is aspiring to an information society. “At the summit we will discuss what exactly should be done to promote the development of an information society,” Nikolai Strukov explained.

    Top on the agenda will be the creation of the necessary infrastructure – the expansion of broadband Internet. “If you do not have Internet, you do not have an opportunity to take part in these processes, while the information society implies physical access to the Internet,” the Deputy Minister underlined.

    The agenda of the forum also features information security, human potential, creation of favorable investment climate and legal framework. “Digital television will also be in the limelight of the discussion,” Nikolai Strukov said.

    WiMAX in all oblast centers of Belarus in 2010

    From: BelTA
    The wireless broadband connectivity based on WiMAX technology will be made available in all the oblast centers of Belarus in 2010, Konstantin Tikar, Director General of the Belarusian landline communication monopoly Beltelecom, told journalists at the international specialized expo “Promising technologies and systems: informatics, telecommunications, security” on 17 November.

    “I think that WiMAX technology will be made available in all the oblast centers by mid-2010. I’ve instructed my specialists”, specified the Director General.

    The construction of the first fragment of the nation-wide network WiMAX in Minsk is expected to be completed by the end of 2009 in accordance with the government program on the innovative development in Belarus. Konstantin Tikar assumed that startup papers will be signed on 29-30 December.

    “The tender has been held, the contract has been signed, and both base and terminal equipment for WIMAX will be at our disposal by early 2010”, said the Director General.

    WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is an advanced standard for the wireless broadband data transmission. WiMAX specifies data, voice and video transmission. It will allow setting up cellular networks offering video calls (simultaneous video and voice data exchange) as well as Internet access. The standard enables communication between transmitters and receivers within 50 kilometers of each other.

    The specialized expo “Promising technologies and systems: informatics, telecommunications, security” is held in Minsk on 17-20 November. It showcases IT systems and equipment, telecommunication and network technologies, software and IT services, and Internet technologies. The expo is held with assistance of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, the State Committee on Science and Technology, the Industry Ministry, the Information Technologies and Communications Ministry, the Information Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Trade Ministry.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Minsk hosts Listapad-2009 Film Festival

    From: BelTA
    The 16th International Film Festival, Listapad-2009, was opened in Minsk on 14 November.

    According to Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vladimir Potupchik, the festival has become one of the most important cultural events in Belarus over sixteen years. Cinema halls in Minsk and other cities of Belarus will demonstrate the best films of famous film makers.

    Vladimir Potupchik noted that the number of participants increases every year. This year, taking part in the forum will be participants from Albania, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Tunisia, Thailand, Philippines and Chile.

    Vladimir Potupchik awarded People’ Artist of Belarus Gennady Garbuk with a special prize of President of Belarus, “For Preserving and Development of Spiritual Traditions in Film Making”.

    According to Rostislav Yankovsky, People’s Artist of the USSR and Belarus and the permanent chairman of the festival, sixteen years is a very long period for a film festival. “I would like you to love our festival and to be proud of it,” said Rostislav Yankovsky at the opening of the festival.

    The 16th International Film Festival, Listapad-2009, will end on 21 November. The festival has become one of the most prestigious international film forums in the CIS. The special feature of Listapad is that it demonstrates the new films, which got various film awards.

    The program of Listapad includes three contests: dramatic films (18 films), documentary films (25), and films for youngsters (7).

    The festival is organized by the Ministry of Culture of Belarus, the Minsk City Hall, Belarusian Film Makers Association, the National Film Studio Belarusfilm, the National State TV and Radio Company of the Republic of Belarus.

    Minsk to host Latin American Gastronomic Festival

    The first Latin American Gastronomic Festival in Belarus will be held in Minsk on 23-29 November, BelTA learnt from the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Belarus.

    This project is organized by the diplomatic missions of Venezuela and Cuba in Minsk. Over a week visitors of this Gastronomic Festival will be able to get acquainted with the peculiarities of the Latin American cuisine.

    For example, the Venezuelan cuisine is based on traditions of the American and European continents and some elements of the African and Asian cuisines. As in many other Latin American countries, the national cuisine consists of meat, leguminous plants and maize (corn), rice, special species of bananas and many other vegetables and spices which are frequently mixed in the most unimaginable combinations.

    Grodno under peaceful veil

    An international project “The National Veil of the World” has been launched in Grodno. Anyone regardless of age, nationality or country of residence can participate in it, BelTA learned from Valentina Tsyganets, Director of the Grodno City Methodic Center of Folk Art, on 16 November.

    The project envisages creating a patchwork canvas that will be carried through Grodno streets during the solemn opening of the VIII national festival of national cultures. The canvas will be made of various woven, sewn, and embroidered patches.

    Sized 50x50 cm, the patches can be created by anyone and sent to the organizing committee by 20 April 2010.

    Valentina Tsyganets said, the length of the two-meter wide canvas will not be limited. It is supposed to grow larger with every festival.

    The Grodno City Center of Folk Art has already started creating Grodno’s patch: a septicolored flower will be embroidered in the center of the World Canvas as the symbol of the festival.

    The organizers believe the creation of the peaceful canvas will contribute to the revival of cultural traditions of various nations, to popularizing national traditions, development of modern and traditional kinds of decorative and applied arts.

    The 8th national festival of national cultures is supposed to take place in Grodno on 4-6 June 2010. The festival will gather up to 40 national associations, over 100 music bands and performers. The screening campaign was launched in provinces of Belarus in November to end in March 2010.

  • Economics...

    Belarus to set up over 1,500 innovation companies in 2011-2015

    From: BelTA
    More than 1,500 new companies and manufactures are to be set up in Belarus in line with the state innovation development program for 2011-2015, Chairman of the State Committee for Science and Technology Igor Voitov said at an opening ceremony of the First Belarusian Innovation Forum on 17 November.

    The development of the concept of the new state program is underway. One of its major goals will be to develop and improve the innovation system in Belarus. The country plans to develop a system-based legislation for evolving innovation activity, complete the formation of the innovation infrastructure, and develop innovation entrepreneurship. “The issues related to the taxation, tariff and pricing policies will be considered as well,” Igor Voitov stressed.

    According to him, the concept envisages the growth of the GDP research intensity to 3% by 2015. Measures will be taken to increase the export of Belarusian high technology products.

    To make the Belarusian economy more competitive, there is a need to speed up economic liberalization and transformation of enterprises into open joint stock companies; create integrated innovation organizations, holding companies and state innovation corporations.

    Specialists from eight countries will take part in the First Belarusian Innovation Forum which will take place in Minsk on 17-18 November. During the forum, representatives of research organizations and experts of innovation companies from Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova, the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and Lithuania will make reports at a plenary session and roundtable meetings. Heads of the ministries and government departments, research and educational establishments, business associations of Belarus, representatives of the national and foreign companies and firms, experts of the UNDP, UNIDO and other organizations will make more than 100 reports on the innovation development.

    The conference is organized by the State Committee for Science and Technology, the Industry Ministry, the Ministry of Architecture and Construction, the Education Ministry, the Ministry for Agriculture and Food, the Energy Ministry, the Housing and Utilities Ministry, the Ministry of Transport and Communication, the Foreign Ministry, Bellegprom, Bellesbumprom, Belbiopharm and Belneftekhim concerns, the oblast executive committees, the Minsk City Hall, the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, the National Library of Belarus, the Belarus National Center for Technology Transfer, the Minsk Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, the High-Tech Park.

    The conference is held with assistance of the CEI cooperation fund, UNDP in Belarus and UNIDO.

    Belarus’ capital investments up 13.1% in January-October

    In January-October 2009 capital and construction investments totaled Br34.6 trillion in Belarus, up 13.1% from the same period of last year in comparable prices, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee.

    In January-October 2009, Br16.9 trillion worth of construction and installation work was fulfilled in Belarus, up 23.8% over January-October 2008.

    Investments into manufacturing exceeded Br22 trillion, up 14.1%, while other investments amounted to Br12.4 trillion (up 12.6%). Investments into manufacturing accounted for 64.1% of the total investments, which is equal to the figures recorded in January-October 2008.

    In January-October 2009, Br13.6 trillion (up 4.2%) was spent on buying machines, equipment and vehicles. These expenses accounted for 39.3% of the total investments, with the share of the money spent on foreign equipment as large as 17.8%.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, in January-October 2009 state-run companies used Br17.6 trillion in capital investments (up 12.5% as against January-October 2008). National ownership companies used Br8.1 trillion in investments (up 2.8% u), municipal ownership ones — Br9.5 trillion (up 22.1%).

    As of 1 November 2009 there were 14,700 manufacturing and non-manufacturing premises under construction (excluding individual developers and small business entities), or 294 objects more than on 1 October 2009. Manufacturing facilities accounted for 41.7% of the total premises under construction.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    EU extends freeze on visa restrictions for Belarus

    From: Reuters
    EU to Lukashenko: No soup for you- 1 more year!
    The European Union on Tuesday prolonged a freeze on visa restrictions for top officials from Belarus, but opted not to lift the sanctions entirely due to a lack of progress on political reform.

    The European Union imposed visa bans on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of other officials after he was accused of rigging his 2006 re-election. The bans were suspended in October 2008 in order to encourage reforms.

    A statement approved by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said the suspension would be extended until October 2010 to encourage further democratic advances.

    A freeze on Belarus government assets in the European Union remains in place, as do visa restrictions on four officials linked to the disappearance of political activists, and on the head of the country's election commission.

    The EU statement said the recent release of political prisoners had raised the possibility of further cooperation between the EU and Belarus, which is a key transit route for Russian energy supplies to the 27-nation bloc.

    But the threat of sanctions will not be scrapped entirely given Belarus's lack of progress on democracy. The EU wants to see electoral reform and movement on human rights, including an end to crackdowns on political activity and the media.

    The EU statement said the sanctions would be reviewed by the Council of EU member states in October, and added: "The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time, in the light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights."

    Lukashenko said in September he would not be forced into reforms by the European Union. He said he saw no need to change the country's electoral law and that he may run for a fourth term at presidential elections due in early 2011.

    Retail sales of vodka reported down by 0.4 percent in first 10 months of 2009

    From: Navany
    Retail sales of vodka dropped by 0.4 percent year-on-year in the first 10 months of 2009, reported the National Statistics Committee.

    Alcoholic drinks accounted for 12 percent of all retail trade in Belarus in the period. Sales of alcoholic beverages, including beer, totaled 3,994.7 billion rubels (almost $1.47 billion), the Committee said.

    Sales of vodka amounted to 8,875,500 decaliters. Sales of beer increased by 5.6 percent to 22,377,900 decaliters, of vodka-based liquors by 14.6 percent to 1,009,800 decaliters, and those of low-alcohol drinks by five percent to 1,136,500 decaliters.

    Vodka and beer accounted for 46.4 and 11.7 percent of the total pure alcohol consumption, respectively, up from 45.6 and 10.8 percent in the same period of 2008.

    Sales of fruit wines reportedly decreased by 7.5 percent year-on-year to 13,401,800 decaliters, accounting for 31.5 percent of all sales of alcoholic drinks, down from 33.4 percent in the first 10 months of the previous year.

    Sales of grape wines decreased by six percent to 1,927,200 decaliters, of brandies by 20.9 percent to 168,100 decaliters and those of sparkling wines by 0.9 percent to 814,600 decaliters.

    PepsiCo plans to increase potato chips production in Belarus

    From: AgriMarket.Info and Fresh Plaza
    PepsiCo is planning to implement an agricultural program of potato cultivation in Belarus, said yesterday the vice president of corporate affairs of PepsiCo CIS countries Sergey Glushkov.

    According to him, currently PepsiCo owns the Europe's largest chips production factory which is located in the city of Kashira, Moscow Region. Another plant is planned to open in the city of Azov, Rostov region. Currently the company buys more than 200,000 tons of Russian as well as imported potato for the production of its branded chips.

    "We want to discuss with the Belarusian authorities the possibilities of implementation an agricultural program of potato cultivation potato for PepsiCo needs. This will help to start exports of the Belarusian potato to Russian and other CIS countries capacities of PepsiCo. "- said Glushkov

    «In order to implement this program we can provide Belarus with some proprietary technologies for growing potatoes, which are used in Russia. They can raise the yield from 13 to 23,000 tons per hectare, "- Glushkov added. According to him, the implementation of such program in Belarus will raise the export potential of the country.

    As the local media reports this issue will be discussed on November 12, at the Belarusian economic forum in Minsk.

    "We hope that our Belarusian partners will help us to find potential participants in this program. As soon as we find them, we will provide media with some more details about the implementation of this project" – said PepsiCo.

    Agricultural organizations of Belarus continue maize harvesting campaign

    As of November 16, agricultural organizations of Belarus harvested maize for grain throughout 82.3 thsd ha, or 61.8% of the planned areas, declared the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Belarus. Production volumes of maize totaled 543.7 thsd tonnes. Maize yield totaled 66.1 c/ha as opposed to 61.1 c/ha on the same date of the previous year.

    In 2009, agricultural organizations of Belarus harvested 18.11 mln tonnes of green material of maize for greed feed and silage throughout the areas of 696.7 thsd ha, or 104.7% of the planned areas.

    Cardinal points to true 'enemies' of believers

    From: Catholic Leader
    Cardinal Walter Kasper: "Our enemies today are not other confessions, but secularism and godlessness"
    The head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has affirmed that the enemies of believers are secularism and godlessness, not members of other faiths.

    Cardinal Walter Kasper said this on Nov-ember 10 during a meeting with the bishops' conference of Belarus.

    Cardinal Kasper was visiting at the invitation of Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk.

    Along with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, the Vatican official participated in a conference on Christian-Jewish dialogue that ended on November 11.

    On the day of his arrival, Cardinal Kasper gave the homily in an opening Mass, in which he recalled that this was his second visit to Minsk, his first taking place on December 14-18, 2002.

    He affirmed that he visited "the Belarusian capital to meet with the Most Reverend Metropolitan Filaret and lecturers of the Institute of Theology of Belarusian State University".

    "We already became good friends as we are guided by the same objective: to work together in order to reach full communion of the Catholic and the Orthodox Church," Cardinal Kasper said.

    In his meeting with the Catholic bishops' conference, Cardinal Kasper said: "We need to listen to other people, change our way of thinking and hearts. Only then will it be the true ecumenism."

    He described three columns of ecumenism: dialogue with the Orthodox Church, dialogue with Protestant communities - such as that with the Anglicans that has been recently furthered by the document on those wishing to enter the Catholic Church - and working with new movements in the Church.

    "Our enemies today are not other confessions, but secularism and godlessness," he said.

    "This is why we need a joint answer to the challenges of the present."

  • From the Opposition...

    Civil activists of “Eastern Partnership” countries presented united front

    From: Charter '97
    Participants of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Brussels demand freedom to political prisoners, freedom of speech, free elections and free visas from the EU and their governments.

    Today the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt delivered speeches at the Civil Society Forum.

    The European Commissioner received the final document of the Forum, worked up by its participants for two days. The resolution was handed in by the leader of the Assembly of Non-governmental organisations of Belarus Syarhei Matskevich. The representative of Belarus had been chosen out of the huge number of the Forum’s participants – 240 organisations from 6 countries of the Eastern Partnership took place in the event. Syarhei Matskevich has been also elected coordinator of the largest platform of the Forum: “Democracy and Human Rights”.

    In the final document participants of the Civil Society Forum cal upon the European Union to demand governments of the participating countries of the Eastern Partnership release of political prisoners, respect to human rights, holding free and democratic elections, freedom of speech and freedom of associations. It has been also stated in the document that “road map” of lifting visa regime for countries participants is needed. To start with, free multiple visas should be introduced.

    This resolution of the Civil Society Forum is to be presented at the session of the Council of Ministers of the European Union in early December.

    The European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner has assured participants of the Forum that all their recommendations would be taken into account. As said by her, the Eastern Partnership program reached the new stage of implementation thanks to the forum.

    “The Commissioner said: previously all questions were discussed only between governments, and now you decide that directly. Your recommendations will be used. Cooperation without civil society is impossible. You will bring to your home country a message that we take the civil society very seriously,” website was told by a representative of Charter’97 and “European Belarus” civil campaign Uladzimir Kobets.

    Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also addressed participants of the forum. He stated that the Eastern Partnership is one of the key initiatives, and today Europe declares importance of dissemination of the rule of law and market economy in the region. The politician assured that cooperation with the Eastern Partnership countries would be built not only at interstate level, but at the level of civil societies as well.

    We remind that the first session of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum was held in Brussels on November 16-17. The conference was organized by Sweden, the EU presiding country, the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). About 240 public associations from 6 partner countries: Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine were taking part in the meeting. Among them are NGOs, associations of employers and trade unions. Representatives of 27 organisations from Belarus were invited.

    Ales Bialatski: “European Union shouldn’t endlessly hand up situation in relations with Lukashenka”

    From: Viasna
    Belarussian rights activist Ales Bialatski was one of the candidates for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize
    Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the head of “Viasna” human rights centre Ales Bialiatski has commented to website on the decision of the EU to extend and “Freeze” sanctions against Belarusian officials.

    “Demands of the EU to the Belarusian authorities are absolutely justified, but it is obvious that the time has come for Minsk to take some more unambiguous steps as an answer to these demands. So far in their talks with the European Union the Belarusian reminds a girl who is making curtseys, bowing, but does no real actions.

    Pinpoint concessions we see from Lukashenka’s regime today cannot be called real actions. I mean registration of “For Freedom” movement and authorization of distribution for 2 independent newspapers.

    These steps do not show the actual tendency. Changes in the electoral legislation are to become an important touchstone now. The situation cannot be hanged up endlessly, and the EU shouldn’t do so. If it turns out that all the actions of Belarusian authorities had decorative and declarative nature, one cannot speak about serious changes, holding fair elections in the country is out of the question. One of the reasons Belarus hasn’t been invited to become the Council of Europe’s member is rigged election results. The next half a year are to become very important. Steps both by the EU and the authorities should become more consistent and logical,” the human rights activist said.

  • Russia...

    EU seeks Russian energy boost

    From: BBC
    The EU does not want another Russia-Ukraine gas crisis this winter
    Europe's need for stable deliveries of Russian gas will loom large at an EU-Russia summit in the Swedish capital Stockholm on Wednesday.

    The August 2008 Russia-Georgia war and the disruption of Russian gas exports last winter led to frosty relations with the EU, and a new partnership deal is still being negotiated.

    Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev will participate in the meeting, which is expected to include discussion of trade, climate change and human rights.


    The EU has pushed for a mechanism to prevent any repeat of the January 2009 Russian gas shutdown, which left millions of people in Eastern Europe shivering in unheated homes and forced dozens of factories to suspend operations.

    On Monday the EU and Russia agreed to set up an early warning system to ensure that EU importers of Russian gas would not be plunged into another crisis.

    Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said it was more than a hotline - he described it as "a network of commitments" including "prompt information of any disruptions to our energy links".

    The January crisis was triggered by a price dispute between Russia and Ukraine - and the EU remains wary of these two big neighbours' tense relations.

    The EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, has ruled out granting a loan to Ukraine to help it pay off its debt to Russia. Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wanted the EU to grant such a loan - and he has warned that Russia will turn off the taps again if Ukraine fails to pay its bills.

    Ukraine will hold presidential elections in January - and this is a foreign policy priority for the Kremlin, which dislikes President Viktor Yushchenko's Western-orientated stance. The election threatens to raise the stakes again in the politically charged energy sphere.

    The EU is moving to diversify its energy supplies, all too aware of its reliance on Russia. But that does not stop multi-billion-dollar joint energy projects going ahead.

    Russia has scored some significant diplomatic successes in recent months as it forges ahead with major new gas pipelines bypassing Ukraine.

    Slovenia has given its approval for the Russian South Stream pipeline, which will transit several EU member states. It is seen as a rival to the EU's planned Nabucco pipeline, which will deliver Central Asian gas to Europe.

    The Nord Stream pipeline, which will deliver Russian gas via the Baltic Sea to Germany, has been approved by Denmark, Finland and Sweden.


    The EU wants clarity on Russia's long-running bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO). The European Parliament is backing the bid, but says Russia must lower the transit fees it levies on goods transported by road and rail, as well as lift restrictions on meat and dairy produce.

    The EU is concerned about Mr Putin's threat to widen Russia's WTO bid to include its neighbours Belarus and Kazakhstan, with whom it plans to form a customs union.

    Sweden, currently holding the EU presidency, says the Russian plan complicates the bid and Sweden's EU Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmstroem warned that "major delays in the Russian accession will affect our bilateral relations".

    Russia is the EU's third most important trading partner, after the US and China.

    In the first half of 2009 Germany was by far the biggest EU exporter to Russia, accounting for 31% of the EU total (9.6bn euros; £8.5bn). Second was Italy (10%), then France (8%).

    Germany was also the biggest EU importer from Russia (10.4bn euros or 20%), followed by the Netherlands (12%) and Italy (11%).

    Machinery and vehicles accounted for more than 40% of EU exports to Russia in the same period. Energy accounted for nearly 75% of EU imports from Russia.


    The Swedish EU presidency is keen to get firm pledges from European governments to take to the crunch Copenhagen climate summit in December, not least because the EU has assumed a leadership role on this issue.

    So Sweden says one of the EU's top priorities on Wednesday "will be to urge Russia to present pledges on emissions reductions ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen".

    President Medvedev has set the goal of cutting Russia's CO2 emissions by 2020 by 10-15% compared with its emissions in 1990, when it was part of the Soviet Union. Plant closures have sharply reduced Russian emissions since Soviet times. But green activists want Russia to do much more.


    Human rights abuses in Russia - especially in the North Caucasus - remain a big concern for the EU.

    This year the European Parliament awarded its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Russian human rights group Memorial.

    MEPs and EU ministers have condemned high-profile murders of human rights activists in Russia, demanding that the perpetrators be found and prosecuted.

    Kazakhstan, Russia concerned about increase in smuggled Chinese goods

    From: 24
    Kazakh and Russian governments are concerned about potential increase in smuggled goods from China through Kyrgyzstan, the information agency Kazinform reported.

    The concern has been reportedly voiced by Karim Masimov, the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, who predicted smuggling boost through Kyrgyzstan due to establishment of Customs Union between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus.

    “Taking into account establishment of the Customs Union, potential illegal sales turnover from China through Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan will be very large as duty rates in the union and Kyrgyzstan sufficiently differ. We should keep a close watch on the situation. Our Customs Union colleagues, particularly, leadership of Russia expressed their concern about the issue,” the prime minister said.

    EU and Russian executives fear protectionism

    From: FT
    Rising trade barriers, imposed in response to the global economic crisis, threaten economic relations between the European Union and Russia, business leaders are warning.

    The dangers are compounded by risks that Russia’s planned customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, due to start on January 1, could complicate ties between Moscow and Brussels, say executives in the Industrialists Round Table, an EU-Russia business organisation.

    IRT representatives will present their findings at a meeting on Wednesday with European leaders and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, during the EU-Russia summit in Stockholm. They will call for a new push on Moscow’s much-delayed attempt to join the World Trade Organisation and extra efforts on negotiating a new EU-Russia deal, but acknowledge that the past year has seen “little progress” in formal economic relations.

    “What we are asking for is clarity to improve the framework for business,” said Nils Andersen, chief executive of Moller-Maersk, the Danish transport group, in an interview. Mr Andersen chairs the IRT jointly with Anatoly Chubais, head of Rusnano, the Russian state high-technology group, who told the Financial Times that Russian accession to the WTO would put its economic links with the rest of the world into “a completely different dimension”.

    In its submission to the summit leaders, the IRT says that, in spite of pledges made at G20 summits to refrain from protectionism, both the EU and Russia have taken measures “that impede imports and exports” and agreed other decisions which “seem to make increases in tariff-related trade barriers more probable in the future”.

    EU business people said examples included Russia’s increase in car import duties and planned rises in alcohol taxes that they feared might fall disproportionately on beer, a market largely controlled by foreign investors, as opposed to vodka, where domestic producers predominate. Russian companies fear that state aid handed out by EU governments during the crisis might lead to protectionist actions.

    The IRT expresses concerns over Russia’s planned customs union, saying WTO accession could be “seriously delayed” if the union’s rules depart from regulations already agreed in negotiations between Moscow and the WTO, for example over tariffs.

    The statement does not call on Russia to scrap the plan. Russian business people could not have supported such a direct challenge to proposals backed personally by Vladimir Putin, the prime minister.

    Mr Chubais said the problem was not with the customs union but with the risk that its implementation might “lead to delays in Russia joining the WTO”.

    He added: “January 1 is only a month and a half away. What are the rules? What are the legal measures? What kind of courts are you to go to if business has problems?”

    Mr Chubais dismissed suggestions of serious differences over trade policy between Mr Putin and Mr Medvedev. He said the situation should not be seen as “a good Medvedev and a bad Putin” because it was more complicated. “Both leaders are positive on WTO accession. It is a condition of accession that they agree.”

    Mr Andersen said: “The two leaders are aligned behind modernisation of the Russian economy. I hope that on this basis we can get real progress in the next 12 months.”

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland Moves Up in Corruption Ranking

    From: Krakow Post
    Polish: not a nationality, a profession
    Every year, the non-profit group Transparency International publishes its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks the countries of the world according to the perceived level of public-sector corruption, based on a variety of surveys.

    In the 2009 CPI, Poland placed 49th out of 180 countries, along with Bhutan and Jordan and just ahead of the Czech Republic. Poland received a score of 5.0, with a confidence range of 4.5-5.5.

    The 2008 index placed Poland in 58th place along with Lithuania and Turkey, with a score of 4.6 and a confidence range of 4.0-5.2.

    At the top of the list this year were New Zealand, Denmark, and Singapore, while Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Somalia were found at the very bottom.

    Polish treasury is accumulating bad debt

    From: WBJ
    The liabilities of unreliable investors towards the State Treasury presently amount to zl.1.3 billion.

    The figure has nearly doubled since 2007.

    According to data presented to Rzeczpospolita, the list of the largest debtors was comprised of 228 companies at the end of September. The first ten companies on the list have not changed since the last verification in April 2007.

    "In the case that an investor is not fulfilling its obligations, we send him a payment summons. If it does not make the payment, we ask the court for an execution title enabling us to vindicate the outstanding amount," said Maciej Wiewiór, spokesperson of the Treasury Ministry.

    Plenty of the liabilities can already be written off as debtors are in financial difficulties, others went bankrupt and some cases in the courts are already outdated. Debtors are mostly smaller companies with Polish capital.

    Former communist agents charged for roles in death of Polish priest

    From: Melbourne Anglican
    Father Jerzy Popieluszko
    Two former Polish secret police agents have been charged with helping to frame Jerzy Popieluszko, a Roman Catholic priest who became a folk hero, and who was murdered 25 years ago after speaking out against communist injustices.

    Poland's Institute for National Remembrance said the arrests had been ordered by its Warsaw-based Commission for Investigating Crimes against the Polish Nation during enquiries into an Interior Ministry unit which carried out "crimes, including murders" against clergy and opposition members during the period from 1956 to 1989.

    The agency added that the two agents from the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa, the communist-era secret police, had carried out criminal acts "intended to eliminate him as a pastor", such as by planting weapons and illegal leaflets in the priest's Warsaw apartment.

    "These functionaries are also accused of participating in a group intending to commit crimes damaging Father Popieluszko," the institute, which researches communist-era abuses of power, said in a statement on 10 November.

    The bound and gagged body of the 37-year-old Popieluszko, who was linked with the outlawed Solidarity movement, was dredged from Wloclawek reservoir in October 1984, a week after his abduction while returning at night from a service in Bydgoszcz.

    Although four Interior Ministry employees were convicted for the slaying, all were released early after controversial sentence revisions, while a former secret police general, Wladyslaw Ciaston, was twice acquitted, in 1994 and 2002, of ordering the killing.

    However, Solidarity supporters have repeatedly blamed senior communists for the death of the priest, who lies buried at Warsaw's St Stanislaw Kostka church with a rosary personally given him by Pope John Paul II.

    The institute statement alleged that the two SB employees had connived in laying false charges against Popieluszko, while attempting to disrupt his pastoral work among "circles linked to the democratic opposition in Poland. It added that other ex-agents might also be charged with harassing the priest, whose beatification as a Catholic martyr could be announced by the Vatican in 2010, placing him on the path to sainthood.

    President Lech Kaczynski posthumously awarded the priest Poland's highest state honour, the White Eagle, on 19 October, the 25th anniversary of his death, which was marked with a special anniversary coin and stamp by the country's National Bank and Postal Service.

    In a resolution on 21 October, Poland's parliament, the Sejm, said Popieluszko's message remained "still topical for us". It said the priest's life had been "a gift to the nation's history, fully expressed by the words of St Paul, 'Overcome evil with good'."

    Toronto Police blotter: Wanted man

    From: Toronto Headlines Examiner
    [L] Robert Turczak, 40, wanted on several firearms, drug, charges. [R] Composite of assault suspect.
    Robert Turczak, 40, [see photo] is wanted on several firearms and drug charges following a search warrant execution on an “In Storage” self-storage facility at 345 Middlefield Road.

    On July 9, 2009, Toronto Drug Squad officers raided the self-storage facility and discovered a sophisticated, clandestine drug-manufacturing facility operating within three units of the building.

    A commercial pill press and hundreds of thousands of ecstasy pills and powder were discovered. A fully loaded 9mm handgun was also recovered at the scene.

    Turczak is described as white, 5’9’’, 189 lbs with brown hair. He speaks with a Polish accent.

    Anyone with information is asked to call 416-808-6100.

  • Sport...

    Belarus ends in a draw match against Saudi Arabia

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ national football team ended in a draw (1:1) the friendly match against Saudi Arabia in Dammam on 14 November, BelTA learnt from Vladimir Nesterovich, head of the press service of the Belarusian Football Federation.

    Belarus opened the score on 20 minute. The goal scorer was Maxim Bordachov. But six minutes later Belarus’ goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov was dismissed. The Saudi footballers leveled the score on 32 minute.

    Belarus played in the following lineup: Zhevnov, Shytau, Lentsevich, Sosnovski, Yurevich, Kalachev, Omelyanchuk (V. Hleb), Kulchy, Bordachov, Rodionov (Amelchenko), Kornilenko (Kislyak).

    It was the first match between Belarus and Saudi Arabia.

    Belarus is scheduled to play another friendly against Montenegro in Podgorica on 18 November. That will be the last match of Belarus’ national football team this year.

  • Endnote...

    How Do You Ship The Biggest Trucks In The World?

    From: Gizmodo
    Cars are absolutely different. There are some very small cars like smart and also there are really big cars. Really goddamn big cars like these BELAZ ones. They are made for above-ground means, and each of them is a real rock handler.
    You drive them, you idiot. But if that’s not an option — say, if you’re shipping your Belaz mining truck from Belarus to South Africa — you’ve got to break them into pieces. Hulking, multi-ton pieces.

    English Russia’s got a series of photos detailing how some of the largest vehicles on the planet, the 10m long, 8m high Tonka-styled mining trucks from Belarusian manufacturer Belaz, known in mining truck circles as “the Komatsu of the Balkans” (I made this up), get shipped from one place to another. The first stage is to break these things down into slightly smaller parts, though still obscenely huge. Cue comically oversized pieces of machinery in unusual positions, now:

    The pieces are then transported by train, plane or flatbed truck to their destination, where they are reassembled, Transformers style, into the comically huge vehicles we all know and love/fear/resent for ruining our sense of scale. And the fun isn’t over, apparently: the 118,000kg trucks aren’t exactly morning people:

    During the first start-up of an each car, engine makes such an awful noise that the human ear can barely stand it.

    At first they mount engine with front wheels to the case of a truck. Then installing rear wheels and mounting front axle group. After the platform and front wheels’ tyres need to be installed. And that is almost all, just a few details and the truck is ready for work. Only cabin, hydraulics and loading platform are left. By the way, loading platforms are shipped to the destination cut into several parts because they’re too heavy and workers of a factory burn them together on the spot.