Belarus and the EU, Death penelty, Latvia, Louvre, Harvesters, Iran, Money, Medvedev, Ukraine, Polish scandal, Culture and Sport
Belarus, EU have good foundation to build relations upon
|Alexander Lukashenko and Benita Ferrero-Waldner|
“We genuinely wish to build good relations with you albeit some may not like it,” said the Belarusian head of state.
He underscored that he would like to have an absolutely open and honest dialogue and that he has ever adhered to a sincere policy approach. “In the European Union some politicians have emerged who believe that Lukashenko is playing with Europe and that he is not going to change anything in the country and in relations with Europe. During all the years of my presidency I have never been dishonest,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “I may not look like a diplomat in a white shirt but I believe that politics should be sincere”. “Even if telling the truth is disadvantageous for you today, it should be said. Later on lies would come out and it would be very difficult to get out of the situation,” added the Belarusian leader.
Addressing Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Alexander Lukashenko remarked that he is ready to sincerely answer all questions “even very awkward ones”. He said he would try to argue her out of the points that he believes are incorrect.
The President underscored that Belarus would like to build normal relations with the European Union because Europe is Belarus’ neighbour. The European Union accounts for half of the trade and the trade produces a surplus for Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko remarked that the European Union is very technologically advanced while Belarus has a hi-tech economy. The country cannot advance it further without cooperation with the European Union. “What do we want from Europe? We want Europeans to understand that Belarus is not only the geographical centre of Europe. It is home to very decent, honest and hardworking people. It is an independent sovereign state and we cannot allow anyone to trespass upon it,” said the head of state. In his words, financial resources, lending and financing are the most important factors for Belarus.
Speaking about what Belarus can offer to Europe, Alexander Lukashenko mentioned the country’s location at the crossroads of transportation routes and security matters. “I would like you to understand that Europe cannot do without its centre. We are the link between such huge powers as the European Union and the Russian Federation,” said the President. Vital oil and gas pipelines cross Belarus as well as automobile and railway routes which are kept in a good state, “better than our neighbours’”. Besides, according to the head of state, Belarus has never been blamed by Europe for failing to ensure main elements of the European Union security. The country works hard to suppress illegal migration, drugs trafficking, transportation of radioactive materials. Besides, the situation is totally stable in the country. There are no conflicts between confessions or nationalities. According to the President, these factors make up the foundation that Belarus and the European Union can build upon.
Alexander Lukashenko thanked Benita Ferrero-Waldner for coming to Belarus despite her busy schedule. He also underscored that a lot depends on this meeting.
Belarus President urges more profitable oil deals
The President noted that this industry is demonstrating a stable and predictable performance. Two Belarusian oil refinery enterprises are working at full capacity, the petrochemical industry is provided with the necessary raw materials. The demand for oil products by households, agriculture and industries is fulfilled. “The major challenge is to provide oil refining and petrochemical enterprises with raw materials and to cut financial, material and labour costs, to prevent the shortage or rise in prices for petroleum-based fuels on the domestic market,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus is expanding oil extraction in other countries, including Venezuela and Iran. However, the bulk of oil comes to Belarus from Russia in line with the Union State coordinated balance of raw materials for 2009 at the amount of 21.5 million tonnes. In general, this amount is sufficient to load the production capacities of Belarusian enterprises. According to the President, there is still some room to raise the efficiency of oil supplies. This can be achieved through the increase in oil supplies via oil pipelines and by railways, through the reduction of transportation costs.
The President underlined that over the recent years a special importance was attached to the modernization of oil refineries; a number of financially-intensive projects was implemented; hundreds of millions of dollars were invested. According to the Belarusian head of state, this investment is paying back. The modernization efforts helped increase the processing depth which means that more useful products are extracted from crude oil. Now the processing depth indices meet high international standards, a mutually beneficial oil price formula was devised. The Belarusian Oil Company was set up to boost the sales of Belarusian oil products abroad. Nevertheless, there is still some potential to save money, from the supplies of raw materials to the sales of ready products. The ongoing meeting will give an opportunity to discuss means to enhance the quality of the imported raw materials and cut their transportation costs and a number of other issues.
Problems in Belarus-Russia relations arise due to inability of solving them at lower level
The problems in the relations between Belarus and Russia emerge due to the inability of solving them at a lower level, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in a session on the oil processing issues.
“Misunderstanding between Belarus and Russia sometimes occurs when businessmen and the governments cannot solve certain issues and bring them to the level of the presidents. It should not be so. Neither Dmitry Medvedev nor I refuse to address these issues but only in those cases when you fail to deal with them,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed addressing the participants of the session. Attending the meeting are representatives of the Russian companies, large oil suppliers to Belarus.
The President noted that his recent meetings with businessmen from other countries showed that only concerted effort and mutual interest of businessmen and governmental officials can make the implementation of large-scale projects more efficient and settle any emerging economic issues.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that today’s major goal is to identify the most efficient measures for improving cooperation, remove even the smallest barriers and gain maximum benefits from the joint activity. “If you are going to ask for subsidies or bigger profits for your companies, please, I have nothing to do with that. I do not want to do any accounting. I should addre
Thomas Hammarberg: Belarus should be Council of Europe’s member
“Belarus should be member of the Council of Europe, because it is part of Europe. I really hope that Belarus will become a full member of this organization in the near future, but this requires certain reforms,” he said.
Thomas Hammarberg noted that PACE demanded the introduction of a moratorium on death penalty in Belarus, while the general requirement for the members of the Council of Europe is the overall abolition of the capital punishment.
He noted that “there is no perfect country and all members of the Council of Europe should guard against complacency in terms of human rights observance. According to the Commissioner, every year the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg receives about 50,000 petitions, over 100,000 petitions are currently under consideration. Permanent monitoring is maintained in each member of the Council of Europe and the same requirements are applied to all of the members of this organization.
PACE now more intent on mutually respectable dialogue with Belarus authorities
The discussions about Belarus at the session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the resolution adopted on June 23 testify to the gradual change in PACE approaches to cooperation with Belarus and the growing number of PACE deputies in favour of promoting a mutually respectable and pragmatic dialogue with Belarusian authorities. The statement was made by Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov when he was asked about the adoption of the PACE resolution on Belarus.
“In this context we notice the Assembly’s appeal for the PACE Bureau to restore the special guest status for the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus,” said the spokesman of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
Unfortunately, Andrei Popov remarked, “it is disheartening that once again PACE has put forward new additional requirements, in particular, the requirement to introduce a moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus.” It has been repeatedly stated that the Republic of Belarus takes an understanding approach to the Council of Europe’s view on capital punishment. The necessary discussion and analysis about it are in progress in the Belarusian parliament and the juridical community of Belarus. They undoubtedly take into account not only the view of the Council of Europe but also the important opinion of Belarus citizens, who expressed their will through a referendum.
“Besides, as far as we know, in line with Council of Europe regulations introducing a capital punishment ban or a moratorium is a requirement for joining the Organisation, not for providing the special guest status,” said Andrei Popov.
Death penalty moratorium quite possible in Belarus soon
It is quite possible to introduce a moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus in the near future, Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, told BelTA as he commented on the PACE resolution, which promises to restore the special guest status for the Belarusian parliament after the capital punishment moratorium is introduced.
“It is quite feasible, more so because we don’t use death penalty anymore at present,” remarked Sergei Maskevich. He reminded that the Belarusian parliament has a working group charged with considering the possibility of suspending capital punishment use. “We’ll wait for results of this work. We have time to wait, at least, till September when the Bureau of the Council of Europe will take the final decision,” said the MP.
According to the source, the PACE decision is a positive one. “I am convinced it is a very important step in relations between Belarus and the Council of Europe. I believe the recommendation is a positive one. As a matter of principle, it could not have been different”. Sergei Maskevich remarked that representatives of the Council of Europe had always emphasised the capital punishment moratorium when they had spoken about Belarus’ participation in the PACE work.
Yet the MP underscored that capital punishment moratorium and capital punishment abolishment greatly differ. “Legally stipulated abolishment of capital punishment may have a negative response from the public. It is necessary to act wisely without hurrying: capital punishment may not be used in Belarus in practice but can still be preserved in the legislation as a tool to keep the most inveterate criminals in check,” said Sergei Maskevich.
Andrea Rigoni: attempts to isolate Belarus have failed
Attempts meant to isolate Belarus have failed, noted Andrea Rigoni, Rapporteur on Belarus for the PACE Political Affairs Commission, at a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on June 23.
Andrea Rigoni said that tangible changes have been seen in Belarus over the last few months in meeting requirements of the Council of Europe. The official also remarked: “The isolation policy has been replaced with a policy of dialogue. The country’s participation in the Eastern Partnership initiative as part of the European Union testifies to that”. With a view to further enhancing the democracy in the country it is advisable to restore the special guest status for the Belarusian parliament, added Andrea Rigoni.
Speaking on behalf of the socialist group, Tadeusz Iwinsky also remarked that attempts meant to isolate Belarusian authorities and the Belarusian society have failed. “We will do the right thing if we approve the report that suggests restoring the special guest status,” he remarked. “If the status is restored, PACE will be able to work directly with the Belarusian authorities in many areas”.
If PACE parliamentarians vote for restoring the special guest status for Belarus, the status will not be restored immediately. The final juridical decision will be made by the bureau of the Council of Europe that is expected to convene in Paris on September 7. With the status restored, the situation in the country will be monitored. A year later PACE will consider the possibility of extending the status using results the monitoring will provide.
Let us remind you that Belarus was granted the special guest status in 1993 to be stripped off it in 1997.
In April 2009 Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis spoke in favour of continuing the dialogue with Belarus, welcoming the EU actions taken with this goal in mind.
Belarusian-Latvian tourism project Bella Dvina successfully presented in euroregion Pamina
The agreement was reached during an educational visit of Belarusian and Latvian participants of the project “Bella Dvina — travelling across borders, exploring culture, enjoying the scenery of the region Zapadnaya Dvina/Daugava” (Bella Dvina) to the German-French euroregion Pamina. The latter includes Southern Pfalz, Middle Upper Rhine (Germany), and Northern Alsace (France). The Belarusian-Latvian delegation got familiar with the operation of tourism information centres, visited tourism infrastructure facilities. According to Nikolai Ilyushenok, the experience of promoting family cycling deserves attention. The kind of tourism is inexpensive but hugely attractive.
At the meeting German and French experts offered practical recommendations for marketing the Bella Dvina product at the local and international levels. For foreign partners representatives of the Bella Dvina project arranged a successful presentation of Bella Dvina and the Vitebsk oblast. They also presented a strategy for tourism development in the Polotsk, Vitebsk and Braslav tourism zones. The administration of the Rhine Park Pamina was interested in practices used in the Polotsk Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve. They intend to get familiar with its operation and the transboundary zone Bella Dvina during a return visit in autumn.
The project “Bella Dvina — travelling across borders” is designed to create a transboundary tourism space along the Zapadnaya Dvina-Daugava between Daugavpils, Polotsk and Vitebsk. The project is supposed to be completed within two years.
The project is co-financed with assistance of the European Commission as part of the programme “Baltic Sea region — Good Neighbourly Programme – Priority Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus (South)”. The money will be apportioned for developing the tourism industry of neighbouring regions of Belarus and Latvia, creating modern infrastructure and purchasing tourism equipment.
Henri Loyrette leaves open possibility to open Louvre’s branch in Belarus
At the same time, it is too early to discuss this issue right now. “We will develop our cooperation step by step. This is our first contact so far,” he said.
According to Henri Loyrette, he visited Russia several times, he visited Ukraine as well. “It was very important for me to pay a visit to Minsk which is an integral part of the Slavonic culture,” he noted.
Cooperation with Belarus in exchanging museum collections is promising
Belarus and France are planning to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the victory in the 1812 war, Director General of Louvre Henri Loyrette told reporters as he visited the National Library of Belarus on June 19.
The Director General said that the two countries could implement joint projects to mark this remarkable date. Henri Loyrette also considers that cooperation in exchanging museum collections is quite promising. “We are cooperating with the Director of the National Art Museum. We have already discussed possible areas of cooperation and consider it is worth presenting the French art in Belarus and vice versa. You have a rich cultural heritage that can be of interest for the French,” he noted.
The French guest was impressed by the Belarusian icons in the National Art Museum, Belarusian hospitality and the national cuisine. He visited the castles in Mir and Nesvizh and saw the National Library in Minsk.
The Louvre delegation led by Director General Henri Loyrette stayed in Belarus on June 17-20. The major goal of the visit was to organise an exhibition of a painting from the French museum collection.
The Louvre, the former palace, is located in the centre of Paris. It has been a medieval fortress, the palace of French kings and a museum for the last two centuries. The fortress that later turned to a palace was built in the late 12th century. The Louvre had been rebuilt several times changing its appearance. The palace acquired its modern-day look in 1871. The collection of the museum known worldwide consists of the collection of Francis I, was later enriched by the collections of Louis XIII and Louis XIV, Napoleon I. The Louvre has embodied the concept of a truly "universal" institution. The museum artworks cover a long geographic and time distance: from Western Europe to Iran through Greece, Egypt and the Middle East; up to 1848 from antiquities. The Louvre world-renown exhibits are Venus Genitrix and Winged Victory sculptures, well-known works of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Titian, Rafael and Botticelli.
Gomselmash to supply production lot of grain harvesters to EU
The customers have already received the first three harvesters of this lot. Polesye GS812 and Polesye GS12 machines that can harvest up to 70 centners per hectare were shipped to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The maintenance of these machines will be provided by an official representative of the company – the Czech dealer centre Trado Holding.
According to Igor Korotkevich, Gomselmash had initially planned to supply 20 machines to Europe in 2009, but the crisis interfered with these plans. According to him, the company decided to dispatch its specialists to help the Czech dealer centre.
In 2006-2008, Gomselmash obtained the right to apply the CE mark to almost all its agricultural machines. This allows the company to sell its products on the European market. In order to advance in this market, the enterprise carried out numerous field tests of its harvesters, regularly participated in specialized exhibitions in the EU states and received delegations of European farmers.
Gomselmash is a multi-business producer of machines to cultivate and harvest crops. The company’s line-up includes machines for harvesting grain, forage crops, sugar beet, potato, as well as mowers and machines for complex soil cultivation.
EBRD lends $10 million to Minsk Transit Bank
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has lent $10 million to Minsk Transit Bank (MTB). This is Belarus’ first bank to benefit from a new EBRD $50 million Financial Sector framework facility which doubled to $100 million the funding available to help small businesses in the country weather the crisis, BelTA learnt from the bank.
The five-year loan to MTB will be used to on-lend to privately-owned micro, small and medium-sized businesses (MSME’s). MTB is one of six EBRD partner banks in Belarus.
The EBRD Board of Directors approved this new framework last June 3 as the $50 million provided under earlier facilities has already been almost fully committed.
The new framework broadens the range of financial products available to the EBRD’s financial partners. Syndicated and subordinated loans, as well as mortgage loans and equity will now be available. In addition the EBRD will for the first time open the framework to leasing and insurance companies.
Some 215,000 micro and small businesses (MSE) are estimated to be active in Belarus. As of the end of March 2009, the banks participating in the EBRD programme had advanced over 15,000 micro loans – with 52% going outside Minsk thanks to a regional network covering Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno and seven other centres.
A total of €2 million ($2.8 million) in donor grants has been secured under the EU’s Neighbourhood Investment Facility to fund technical support for this EBRD programme.
MTB, Belarus’ 11th largest bank at the end of the 2008, as measured by assets, was established in 1994 and is an important source of MSME and retail finance. It has been an EBRD client since 2007 and also participates in the programme under which the EBRD issues guarantees to speed up the flow of international trade.
Belarus looks to Iranian oil to make up for milk losses
A Belarusian parliamentary delegation is going to visit Iran on June 23-25, announced the parliamentary press-service on June 22. The delegation, scheduled to meet the highest Iranian leadership, can be seen as the expression of the Belarusian leadership’s faith in the legitimacy of President Ahmadinejad and an attempt to support him in the tough period of post-election protests.
This noble act, however, has a very rational and material grounding. It is the Jofeir oilfield located near the Iran-Iraq border. The deposit is expected to produce around 30,000 barrels per day of crude oil as of initial estimations. According to the contracts, Belarus will get a lion’s share of that. The joint Belarusian-Iranian project to develop an oil field in southern Iran might bring the first benefits in the nearest future – at least that is what officials from both countries are hoping for.
IMF welcomes widening of rubel’s exchange rate band
The National Bank of Belarus pegged the rubel to a basket of foreign currencies, the US dollar, the euro and the Russian ruble, earlier this year, promising to ensure that the rubel’s fluctuations against the basket do not exceed five percent throughout the year. The rate was projected to fluctuate between 912 and 1,008 rubels against the basket. With the limits now widened by another five percent, the currency may fluctuate from 864 to 1,056 rubels against the basket.
“We support the decision of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus to widen the exchange rate band from ±5 percent to ±10 percent. The widening of the band increases the flexibility of the exchange rate regime, which will make it easier for Belarus to absorb external shocks,” Chris Jarvis, head of the IMF mission to Belarus, said in a statement on June 22.
“The recent gradual depreciation of the exchange rate within the band will improve Belarus’s balance of payments. The decision by the NBRB last week to increase the interest rate on overnight lending to commercial banks was a positive step that will support economic and exchange rate stability,” the statement said.
In an interview with BelaPAN on Monday, opposition economist Yaraslaw Ramanchuk predicted that the National Bank would have to further expand the rubel’s range of fluctuation later this year.
“The rubel’s gradual devaluation is obvious,” Mr. Ramanchuk said, linking the National Bank’s move to a shortage of foreign cash in the country caused by a plunge in exports and a lack of foreign investments.
The economist predicted that the Belarusian currency would fall to 3,300 rubels against the dollar by September.
Larijani discusses ties with Belarusian counterpart
From: Tehran Times
Larijani said although Iran and Belarus have expanded their relations to a considerable extent, there is still a great potential for economic and industrial cooperation.
He stated that the parliaments of the two countries can play a significant role in increasing ties between Tehran and Minsk.
Larijani also said, “It is Iran’ principled policy to establish security and lasting peace in the region.”
The Majlis speaker also said, “Iran has made great nuclear achievements and will continue its peaceful nuclear activities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency”.
For his part, Batura said, “The Republic of Belarus greatly values friendship with Iran, and expansion of cooperation with Iran, as the most important Persian Gulf country, is one of the priorities of Belarus’ foreign policy.”
The Belarusian official called for the implementation of economic, political and industrial agreements between the two countries.
Batura also said his country supports Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology.
In a meeting with Iranian Commerce Minister Masoud Mir-Kazemi in Tehran on Tuesday, Batura said Belarus and Iran have established good political relations and should try to bring their economic cooperation to the same level.
Some difficulties between businessmen and enterprises of the two countries emerge because the partners rarely meet and are not fully aware of each other’s potential, the top Belarusian lawmaker noted.
Delegation of US Senate to visit Belarus next week
|Benjamin L. Cardin|
The delegation, which will make a stopover in Minsk as part of its European tour, will be led by Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings.
The delegation also will visit Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania during the June 26-July 3 trip.
The stop in Minsk will “mark the highest level Congressional delegation to the authoritarian country in more than a decade,” the Helsinki Commission said.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry “upset” by Europe’s fidelity to principle
From: Charter '97
The resolution adopted by the PACE demonstrates that approaches to organizing cooperation with Belarus are gradually changing, but at the same time Minsk is upset that the PACE puts forward new preliminary conditions for resuming the Special guest status, said the spokesperson of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Papou to journalists.
“The discussion on the Belarusian issue in the framework of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the resolution adopted today demonstrate that approaches to organizing cooperation with Belarus are gradually changing, and the number of supporters of mutually respectful and pragmatic dialogue with the authorities of the country among the PACE deputies is growing,” A. Papou stated, commenting of the resolution on Belarus adopted at the PACE session in Strasbourg today, Interfax informs.
“In this context we note the call of the Assembly to the PACE Bureau to restore the Special Guest status for the national assembly of Belarus,” he added.
At the same time, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus observed: “Unfortunately, we are upset that once again the PACE offers new preliminary conditions, in particular, the moratorium on the execution of the death penalty in Belarus”.
A. Papou has also noted that Belarus, “as it was said on repeated occasions, treats the position of the Council of Europe on death penalty with understanding”.
“The parliament of Belarus and the legal community of our country are carrying out the necessary discussion and analysis on this topic, and certainly they take into account not only the position of the Council of Europe, but the influential opinion of citizens of Belarus, expressed at the nation-wide referendum on this issue,” he said.
The spokesperson of the FM attracted attention to the fact that “as far as we know, under the statutory documents of the Council of Europe abolition of death penalty or imposing a moratorium on it are conditions for joining the organisation by the country, and not for receiving the special guest status”.
Viasna’s Brest office to strive for registration in court
The main reason for the decision was the withdrawal of a letter of guarantee for the allocation of a legal address by its owner. In reality, the proprietor of the premises was threatened by the city authorities.
The human rights activist Uladzimir Vialichkin thinks that by doing this the authorities have deprived Belarusian citizens of their constitutional right to the freedom of association, including the right to exercise activities aimed at protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Russia's Shuvalov blames US, EU for WTO talks failure
Russia, the biggest economy outside the 153-member trade body, is now negotiating entry along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, with which Moscow says it will create a customs union.
The move, which has left the WTO secretariat in confusion, was announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin just days after Russian officials held talks with U.S. and EU trade representatives.
"The customs union is the concrete result. A lack of Russian membership in the WTO is also a concrete result of joint work by the U.S., EU and Russia in recent years," Shuvalov told Reuters in an interview.
"Moreover, I cannot say it was Russia's fault," said Shuvalov, the minister responsible for overseeing both the WTO accession talks and integration with Russia's ex-Soviet neighbours.
He said he saw no positive signals from the United States and EU. "We always felt some kind of special treatment which often took the form of 'You do what you have to do and then we take you into the WTO'...
We accepted up to a certain limit but saw no movement towards accession," Shuvalov said.
Russia has been negotiating to join the WTO for 16 years but Russian officials say the United States and European Union have made unreasonable demands for entry.
Shuvalov said the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan were more active in pursuing the customs union with Russia than WTO negotiating partners had been in pursuing Russia's accession to the trade body.
Medvedev adheres to civilized trade with everyone, including Belarus
From: Itar Tass
“Talking about these latest events, we were a bit taken aback, of course, by the way our Belarusian friends and partners reacted to what was happening. The situation is really quite simple, after all. What we need is civilized trade, even between such close and brotherly countries as Russia and Belarus. A year ago now, we adopted some new rules and said they would have to obtain new certificates for meat and dairy imports from Belarus. We know that they export a lot to Russia. Almost 100 percent of their exports in these products are to Russia. But a year went by and nothing was changed, nothing was done in Belarus. And so when the new rules took effect the trade flow came to a halt. That is the first reason for this situation,” he said.
“The second reason lies in the fact that our market is vast, but it is not unlimited. We have our own producers, and no matter what the warm and fraternal feelings we have for our Belarusian partners and for Belarus’ farmers, our own farmers are still closer to our hearts.
“By now we have found solutions and trade will resume. I hope the situation we saw will not hinder the development of normal cooperation in the agriculture sector and also our coordinated action on accession to the WTO. After all, we established a special customs union together with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and now we will enter the WTO together,” Medvedev said.
Belarus denies Gazprom debt claims
In a related story, Belarus denied it had received official notice on late payments from Gazprom as Minsk has paid in full for its natural gas supplies, deputy officials say.
Vadim Gusyev, a spokesman at the Russian Embassy in Minsk, told RIA Novosti that Gazprom had issued a formal request to Minsk to settle outstanding debt for January through May.
He added that arrears had accumulated because Belarus had not paid the contract price of $250 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. Gusyev said Gazprom had set a June 23 deadline for Belarus.
Eduard Tovpenets, the deputy energy minister of Belarus, denied those statements, saying his country had met its payment obligations.
"Payments have been made in full based on the average annual price of about $150 per 1,000 cubic meters, as stipulated in the high-level agreements," he said.
He added Minsk received no letter from Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly.
Russia had offered Belarus gas in 2007 at a substantial discount provided that price would reach parity with European prices by 2011.
Both countries Thursday had settled outstanding issues on dairy production following a ban on Belarusian dairy imports.
Ukraine Presidential Election Slated for Jan. 17
Bickering among political leaders has all but paralyzed the government, leaving key cabinet posts vacant as the economy plunges. Output fell by as much as 25% in the first quarter, according to President Viktor Yushchenko, as demand for metals, chemicals and other exports dried up.
A mission from the International Monetary Fund is set to arrive in Kiev on Wednesday to consider whether to release another installment from a $16.4 billion loan agreed to last year.
Talks with the IMF are expected to look at the possibility of using the next loan installment to cover budget shortfalls. An IMF spokeswoman Friday said the financing "could well include budget support."
The government has struggled to fulfill promises to the IMF to cut spending and rein in the budget deficit. In addition, Russia has warned of another gas crisis if Kiev fails to come up with billions of dollars needed to build fuel stocks this summer. The economic and political turmoil have dented the popularity of pro-Western leaders who swept to power after the Orange Revolution in late 2004.
Mr. Yushchenko, who took office in 2005 after voters protested the results of a presidential ballot, is seen as having a slim chance of winning re-election. His approval rating has tumbled to the low single digits amid voter disappointment with his efforts to implement reforms.
Pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, who lost in 2004 and enjoys wide support in the country's industrial east, leads in opinion polls, garnering support from 26.6% of voters in a survey by pollster FOM-Ukraine at the end of May.
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Mr. Yushchenko's former ally, is the nearest challenger with 16.2% in the survey. In recent months, she has tempered her pro-Western platform with a more conciliatory approach to Russia.
An attempt to form a coalition between the country's two largest political parties, headed by Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yanukovych, fell through this month amid mutual recriminations.
Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko have gone from being allies during the Orange Revolution to sustaining a rivalry that has grown increasingly bitter over the past few months.
Mr. Yushchenko has repeatedly criticized the gas agreement Ms. Tymoshenko signed with Russia in January, and has accused her of pursuing policies that are crippling the finances of state energy company Naftogaz.
For her part, Ms. Tymoshenko has described her negotiation of the gas pact as a "true victory" for Ukraine. She has accused Mr. Yushchenko of sabotaging her government's attempts to right the economy.
A rising challenger is former parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose approval ratings have climbed in recent weeks to 12.8%. The 35-year-old Mr. Yatsenyuk -- who has a reputation as a new face of politics -- is benefiting from popular disenchantment with the political elite.
The Oct. 25 date for the election that parliament originally chose was overturned by the Constitutional Court after Mr. Yushchenko appealed.
Mr. Yushchenko also slammed plans reportedly discussed by Ms. Tymoshenko's and Mr. Yanukovych's parties this month to have the president elected by parliament rather than by popular vote as "an unconstitutional coup."
Belarus KGB: Massive spike in drug smuggling into Poland
From: Earth Times
The volume of illicit transfers of Russia-produced chemical materials needed for narcotics manufacture through Belarus to Poland had increased sevenfold since 2008, Nadtochaev said.
"Poland has become one of the world leaders in the production of synthetic drugs ... we are seeing a huge increase in the smuggling of precursor materials from Russia through Belarus," he said.
Belarusian arrests of persons on narcotics trading charges were up 60 per cent, but the volume of drugs getting through to Poland remained massive and was likely to continue to rise, according to the KGB report.
Belarus as per the terms of a "favoured-nation" trading agreement with Moscow polices its eastern border lightly, with few if any checks to persons or transport entering the former Soviet republic from Russia.
Belarus controls its western and northern borders with Poland and the Baltic states Lithuania and Latvia more closely, but smugglers often find routes into the EU using the region's thickly-forested and swampy terrain, sometimes with the assistance of local villagers with few other means to generate income, Nadtochaev said.
Polish police arrest 21 in anti-smuggling operation
From: EU Business
The smuggling gang, which moved their cargoes through several European countries, had defrauded the EU authorities of at least eight million zloty (1.75 million euros, 2.46 million dollars), said police.
The gang was based in both Poland and Italy and had been active from January 2006, said a statement from the Lublin provincial police headquarters, eastern Poland.
They had smuggled at least 53 sizable shipments of contraband cigarettes between the two countries, via Romania, Austria, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia.
The suspects, aged between 29 and 57, face charges related to participation in organised crime, tax fraud and money laundering punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Three of the suspects are women.
In May, Polish police dismantled the biggest black market cigarette factory ever found in Poland, seizing 8.5 million cigarettes and 22 tonnes of tobacco.
Six Poles and six Ukrainians were detained. The cigarettes had been destined for western European countries, said police.
Polish family leave after attacks
Windows in the homes of Polish families were broken and two cars were damaged over the weekend.
Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott said foreign nationals should be left alone.
"That part of south Tyrone has quite a high number of foreign nationals that have moved within the area in the last number of years," he said.
"A lot of those have integrated well into society and they're living and working within the local society.
"All those people should be allowed to live in peace, no matter where they come from."
Bernadette McAliskey, of the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme (Step), which works with migrant workers, said bricks had been thrown through windows in each of the houses.
"On at least some of them a note was attached telling people to vacate their homes and leave the area, and giving them a very limited time to do so," she added.
"It is a very small area and a very close-knit community of good people, and the thing that needs to be done is that the perpetrators need to be identified, appropriately charged, tried and held accountable for their actions."
Poland's NecroExpo: where the Grim Reaper cashes in
The three-day event, which just wrapped its third edition in the southern town of Kielce, is a magnet in a business where the Grim Reaper is as much about rewards as souls.
Like any trade fair, NecroExpo has its share of scantily-clad hostesses -- but in this case they pitch high-end Italian hearses or kitsch white coffins lined with lace.
At one stand, exhibitor Grzegorz Szymanski showed off swish ensembles including ceremonial undertakers' outfits.
"Contrary to what people think, really dark colours don't dominate. Only 10 percent of what we sell is black. The rest are in greys, graphite, and so on," Szymanski told AFP.
"There's no rule saying it has to be black. Black's out," he said.
Szymanski also produces coffin-wear to make corpses look their best.
"There really isn't much difference between suits for the deceased and those for the living," he said, fingering the lapel of a smart three-piece.
"And for the ladies, it can't just be any old thing. It has to be tiptop," he added, pointing out a retro-style black and white dress.
Trends are equally marked in the coffin business, said Bartlomiej Lindner, whose family firm is Poland's largest producer, turning out 132,000 caskets a year.
"It all depends on the season. In the spring, for example, we sell many more clear colours," he said.
Lindner, whose firm exports to the German-speaking world, explained that foreign markets have quirks.
"For example, you can't sell this in France or Britain," he said, tapping a rectangular pine coffin which is the norm in Germany.
"In the trade we nickname this the 'Dracula'," he added, pointing to a elongated hexagonal shaped casket, favored in Poland, Britain and France.
Coffins range from 35 euros (50 dollars) for what the company calls, discreetly, its "Model S" -- for "social welfare" -- to 1,500 euros (2,100 dollars) for a top-of-the-range carved casket.
"Right now, given the crisis, we're probably selling more of the cheaper models. But we still sell high-end ones. It all depends on the customer's budget," said Lindner.
More than 90 percent of Poland's 38 million inhabitants are professed Roman Catholics.
While the Church has dropped old objections to cremation, habits die hard with many priests. Burials remain the norm: there are around 300,000 a year, compared to 25,000 cremations.
"The market's very competitive," said Karol Czartoryski, 24, of a family-run funeral supplies wholesaler's. "I was born into this business. I knew from the start that I wanted to do this," he added.
Poland is home to around 2,000 undertakers' firms, although some are fly-by-night outfits. Only 300 are in the national undertakers' association, which distances itself from the cowboys.
The sector's reputation was dented by the gruesome 2002 "Cash-for-Corpses" scandal, where undertakers bribed medical staff to get tip-offs about deaths, and two ambulance drivers were later convicted of finishing off patients to earn extra cash.
Poland is unusual in Europe in that the state helps with funeral costs -- the deceased's family gets a social security payout of 6,000 zlotys (1,300 euros, 1,870 dollars).
"With that kind of money, you can have a funeral with a Mercedes," said Witold Skrzydlewski, head of the undertakers' association.
His firm conducts up to 600 funerals per month, making it Poland's largest.
"Personally I don't like cremations. It's partly moral. But also because they don't make business sense. People cut corners, they don't buy flowers and sometimes don't bother with an urn but just scatter the ashes," he said.
Cremation costs around 1,500 zlotys and burial, around 2,500 zlotys, he said.
While most of NecroExpo's exhibitors are Polish, it also draws foreign players.
"I wasn't intending to go into this business," said Michael Xu, whose China-based polyester flower firm is moving into wreathes. "But in Europe I've found many people love artificial flowers, especially in countries where the weather's too cold for fresh ones."
Customers also stray across sectors, said Tomasz Bialkowski, who imports used hearses, selling some 30 a year at around 15,000 euros each.
"We had a call from a Dutch bike dealer who wants to turn one into a cycle-transporter," he said
Top 4 Belarus prospects for 2009
From: Hockey's Future
The 2008 Entry Draft saw only one Belarussian player drafted, Stefanovich, but other players decided to cross the pond like Igor Revenko, Artem Demkov and Aleksandr Fomin. Last year the New York Rangers signed Vladimir Denisov, who was already playing in North America in the 2007-08 season as he skated both in the AHL and in the ECHL, with the Lowell Lock Monsters and the Johnstown Chiefs.
Former Montreal Canadien Grabovsky has been traded to Toronto, where he had a highlight season scoring almost 50 points. NHL veteran Salei had a not bad personal season with the Avalanche. Stefanovich, who has just been signed by the Leafs, has scored almost one goal per game in the QMJHL and is eyeing AHL seasoning prior to breaking Toronto roster in the 2010-11 season. Also the Kostitsyn brothers proved to be core players for the Canadiens.
It's hard to believe that the 2009 class draft will produce players with similar career prospects, but there are nevertheless interesting players who might have a chance.
Euro U-21: Acquafresca Double Helps Italy Down Belarus
Acquafresca began the game with intent, as some awkward play from the Belarussians prompted Marco Motta to ping a ball across in the danger zone toward the near post, but the Inter forward's good run was not befitting of the finish that followed.
Sergey Krivets, pinpointed prior to the tournament as the man to watch for the Belarus Under-21 side, lived up to his promise as he saw more of the ball in the early swordsmanship of the tie, but, like Acquafresca, the final touch was lacking.
Just five minutes later and Leonid Kovel appeared to have a valid penalty shout, as Motta appeared to make little contact with the ball as he took Kovel out, but the referee deemed the challenge fair.
As the game approached the half-hour mark Italy began to impress as their tight and crisp passing attracted plaudits, but failed to pay instant dividends. Pressure around the Belarus box continued to mount but a series of goal-line clearances kept the team in red's sheet clean, albeit temporarily. Verkhovtsov blocked a Criscito header in the 29th minute then, seconds later, another Italian corner saw Bocchetti's nod beat Chesnovski, but Afanasiev was there to bail his glovesman out of trouble.
Minutes before the break, Belarus looked to have the half-time advantage as slack Italian play allowed Kislyak to play a mid-range one-two with Shitov before firing home the opener, despite Criscito having a clear chance to score minutes before with a wide open header.
Italy, though, walked into the break level, as Afanasiev conceded a spot kick due to a hand-ball and Acquafresca made no mistake when converting the penalty.
Bouyed by his strike late in the opening 45 minutes, Acquafresca began the second half in strong fashion, yet had it not been for woeful finishing he could have perhaps finished the day with more than a deuce.
His second, though, arrived in the 75th minute after some ingenius play by the much-coveted, pint-sized forward, Sebastian Giovinco, who himself could have scored ten minutes before but was denied by some sturdy defending. Candreva had a golden shot on goal but instead opted to play in Acquafresca, who rounded off a simple passage of play to seal the Azzurrini's win and secure the Italians' status as group toppers.
Two minutes later and Italy were denied a further goal, not by strong last-man tacking, blocking, or goalkeeping, but by the frame of the goal. Juventus' starlet Giovinco was the source, but his driven effort flirted with the top-side of the bar before gliding over.
Italy progressed to the final four, where they will face Germany. In the end the scoreline could have been more, but they were made to work for the points.
Belarus U21 - Chesnovski, Shitov, Verkhovtsov, Osipovic, Bordachov, Kislyak, Kryvets, Sivakov, Afanasiev, Kovel, Komarovskiy.
Subs - Kovalevski, Chukhlei, Volodko, Gomelko, Yurchenko, Martynovich, Veretio, Yanushkevich, Balanovich, Sachivko, Putilo, Gigevich.
Italy U21 - Consigli, Motta, Andreolli, Bocchetti, Criscito, De Ceglie, Marchisio, Cigarini, Abate, Acquafresca, Giovinco.
Subs - Sirigu, Pisano, Morosini, Marzoratti, Dessena, Cerci, Ranocchia, Poli, Candreva, Paloschi, Seculin.
Goal-scorers - Kislyak (44), Acquafresca (45+2, 74).
Ferrero-Waldner: EU took off rose-coloured glasses long ago
From: Charter '97
In the morning June 22, Benita Ferrero-Waldner met with Stanislau Shushkevich, former chairman of the Supreme Council of Belarus and leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada; former political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin; head of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka; leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists Syarhei Kalyakin; deputy head of the BPF party Vintsuk Vyachorka.
“I have an impression Benita Ferrero-Waldner has a deep insight into the events in Belarus. We can only welcome this. We see that the Commissioner is going to listen to every side. We hope her position will help to change the situation in Belarus. We said at the meeting that no fundamental changes are noticed in Belarus, we still don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly, there are political prisoners in the country. Benita Ferrero-Waldner answered to that she realizes that no changes could be expected without changes in the electoral legislation of Belarus. The commissioner added she would keep an eye on investigation of the cases of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Asipenka, ” Stanislau Shushkevich told the Charter’97 press center after the meeting.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner had a 30-minute meeting with representatives of civil society of Belarus today’s morning. Coordinator of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Zmitser Bandarenka, head of Viasna human rights center Ales Byalyatski, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhanna Litvina, public activist Tatsyana Pashyvalava, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak, head of Novak Laboratory Andrei Vaardamatski took part in the meeting.
Zhanna Litvina told about the situation with freedom of speech in Belarus, which is still poor, in her view. Ales Byalyatski said two parties and 10 public organizations, including Viasna human rights center, weren’t registered since the so called liberalization had been announced in Belarus. According to him, it’s impossible to speak about minimal political freedom in Belarus without changes in the laws concerning political parties and NGOs.
BHC head Aleh Hulak told criminal cases had been instigated against three NGOs who had received aid within frames of TACIS EU’s programme; criminal prosecution hasn’t been stopped yet. Hulak also told about the case of Autukhovich, Lyavonau, and Asipenka. Benita Ferrero-Waldner demonstrated keen interest in the issue of political prisoners.
Coordinator of “European Belarus” Zmitser Bandarenka reminded the European commissioner that leaders of entrepreneurs Autukhovich and Lyavonau had been arrested the day before their previous term of punishment expired. They were recognized prisoners of conscience for that sentence. The Belarusian television and interior minister Uladzimir Navumau said explosives had been found on Autukhovich, Lyavonau, and Asipenka and they allegedly gave confessions, though the political prisoners don’t admit their guilt.
Zmitser Bandarenka told the European commissioner that militia destroyed European symbols in spit of talks about friendship with the European Union riot militiamen tore down EU flags during opposition rallies, militiamen burst into activists’ apartments and seize European flags, stickers, posters, brochures with EU symbols and information about the EU. Militiamen refuse to return these materials and say they will be burnt.
Ferrero-Waldner was shocked by this information. The commissioner said their European Union noticed certain positive changes in Belarus at the beginning of the dialogue with the Belarusian authorities. But now the European Union sees only stagnation and no real steps on democratization.
“We told that Lukashenka needed only loans from the European Union, and liberalization is just bluff. The European commission answered the European Union had taken off rose-coloured glasses long ago and had a real view of the situation in the country. Benita Ferrero-Waldner told she knew under which hard conditions civil society activists had to work, and noticed she believed changes in Belarus were inevitable. We thanked the European commissioner for her firm position in defending human rights,” Zmitser Bandarenka told the Charter’97 press center.