Belarusian semiconductor makers, Azerbaijan, EU Council, Russia, UN, Economics, Sanctions, Opposition, Culture, Sport and Polish scandal...
Belarusian semiconductor maker Integral in for re-adjustment
Alexander Lukashenko said that Integral will not get extra funding from the government. “We could have used the money to set up a new enterprise. I am dissatisfied with the present running of the company,” said the President.
Alexander Lukashenko was displeased with the lack of an outcome from government investments. The company was supposed to have implemented three main projects relating to submicron technology manufacturing. At present the main project codenamed Submicron K has stalled. The company owes around Br300 billion to the government and creditors. The head of state said that government funds or loans will not be used to sustain any enterprise. “There will be no more money!” he said.
Head of the Integral company Vitaly Solodukha remarked that time is needed to polish the technology and reach the designed output capacity. The new production facility may reach the planned output capacity by the end of 2010, he said.
Belarus First Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko told the head of state that the enterprise has started manufacturing five products and plans to start making another 20 by late 2010. The project will be self-supporting after that. To mend the situation, the government suggests giving the company the status of a high-tech park, converting it into a joint-stock company and providing additional funding for the sake of reaching the planned performance by the end of next year. The President declined the idea saying “I am not ready to sell the company, nor ready to reincorporate it as a joint-stock company. Seek money wherever you wish. You will not get budget funding and will pay taxes in full”.
Alexander Lukashenko instructed law enforcement agencies, the State Control Committee, the Belarus President Administration to find those guilty of the ineffective use of the funds and the failure to deliver on time. The President also instructed to examine the spending of government funds at every Belarusian enterprise. The Shklov paper mill and Grodno Azot are next on the list.
Alexander Lukashenko assigned Belarus First Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko to straighten out the situation and make the guilty ones responsible, including former management of the company.
“I need working money there. The enterprise should be preserved and should operate in the black,” concluded the President.
Belarus-Azerbaijan cooperation in for larger projects
“So far in the present complicated conditions of the global financial and economic crisis, the strategic goal is reaching larger scale joint projects both in Azerbaijan and Belarus, making non-conventional decisions sometimes. The foundation for it has been laid down already,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarusian head of state underlined that in 2006 they reached an agreement with Ilham Aliyev on starting up the joint production of Belarusian machines in Azerbaijan. At present Belarusian tractors and MAZ vehicles are assembled at premises of the Gandzha-based automobile plant.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that it is necessary to move on – it is necessary to implement the idea of the joint production of automobile cranes, lift equipment, mounted agricultural implements in Azerbaijan. “We have accumulated extensive experience of modernizing the industry and are ready to share it with our Azerbaijani friends. We have agreed with the Azerbaijan President that we will make the transition from plain cooperation forms to joint manufacturing enterprises in Azerbaijan and Belarus,” he said.
According to the Belarusian head of state, Belarusian-Azerbaijani relations do not rely on passing competition principles. They are based on mutual interests of the two nations. “This is why we need to enhance institutional and coordinating mechanisms of the bilateral contacts,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.
EU Council to consider resuming Belarus-EU partnership agreement
The agreement mainly regulates trade relations. Jean-Eric Holzapfel underlined that trade is an important part of the Belarus-EU cooperation. It is a separate area, which proper development requires a contractual legal framework.
At present the 1989 agreement is in effect because the 1995 agreement on partnership and cooperation has not been ratified by European Union member-states. “It is suspended for now. Both the Belarusian side and us would like to resume the agreement,” noted the head of the European Commission’s representation in Belarus.
As a positive example of the development of the legal base between Belarus and the European Union he mentioned the ratification of a framework agreement, which is supposed to shape the legal base for implementing Belarus-EU technical cooperation projects and regulates the implementation of joint programs. The ratification is about to complete.
The framework agreement between the Belarusian government and the Commission of European Communities was ratified by the House of Representatives of the National Assembly on 8 October 2009. It was ratified by the Council of the Republic on 22 October.
UNGA adopts Belarus-initiated resolution on human trafficking
Co-authors of the resolution are more than 70 countries representing all parts of the world including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Bolivia, Venezuela, Zambia on behalf of all the African countries, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nicaragua, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Philippines and Ecuador. The resolution reflects a growing concern of the international community about the problem of human trafficking and the intent of the UN member states to finally put an end to this form of modern slavery.
The resolution describes progress made by the international community in counteracting human trafficking in 2008. The document also includes practical recommendations on addressing this problem. The resolution appoints coordinators for consultations on the UN global action plan to combat human trafficking. The consultations should be transparent and open to all the interested people.
The global action plan shoul become an effective mechanism for intensifying the effort in combating human trafficking.
It has been the third Belarus-sponsored UNGA resolution adopted since President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko introduced an initiative to intensify global effort to combat human trafficking at the UN Summit in 2005.
Year of Culture of Belarus in Russia to open in March 2010
Events within the Year of Culture will include performances of Belarusian artists and groups, exhibitions, display of Belarusian films in various Russian cities.
The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus in Moscow will open the Belarusian cultural program. Another opening event will be an exhibition of modern Belarusian painters.
Days of the Belarusian culture in St. Petersburg in April are one of the most important items of the program. The event will include a gala concert of Belarusian artists and opening of Yan Borshchevsky’s memorial plaque. A concert of the State Chamber Orchestra of Belarus and a round-table discussion “A theme of patriotism in the works of modern writers” will be organized at the Hermitage concert hall.
Pesnyary and Syabry, famous Belarusian bands, will go on tour around the cities of Russia. A joint gala concert of the most famous artists of Belarus and Russia dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory will take place in Moscow in May 2010.
A theme exhibition of Maksim Bogdanovich Literature Museum will be presented in Yaroslavl. Days of the Belarusian movie will be held in several Russian cities in the course of a year.
The closing ceremony of the Year of Culture of Belarus will take place in Moscow.
Bayan players from Gomel win first prizes in St. Petersburg
Gomel bayan players were awarded the first prizes at the sixth Silver Tuning Fork international contest in St. Petersburg, BelTA learnt from the culture department of the Gomel Oblast Executive Committee.
Taking part in the competition for performers of instrumental, choral, and vocal music were more than 150 young musicians. Gomel was represented by Evgeny Moroz, a student of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian State Music Academy, and Alexander Zubarev, a student of Gomel State College of Arts named after N. Sokolovsky.
According to Anatoly Trophimovich, deputy director of Gomel State College of Arts, the college traditionally sends its students to the national and international music contests and festivals as they aim to support young talented people, promote academic music, and discover future music stars.
Students of the college will take part in Golden Talents of the Commonwealth international contest and festival in Zheleznogorsk (Russia) in November 2009. Apart from this, Gomel students will perform at the 8th international contest for guitar players and ensembles in Belgorod and at the competition of bayan players and pianists named after S. Rakhmaninov in Veliky Novgorod.
Gomel State College of Arts named after N. Sokolovsky was founded in 1921. More than 480 students attend the college. The faculty is 137 professors. The Gomel branch of the Belarusian State Academy of Music was created at the college of arts in 2003.
Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves up 44.9% in January-October
In line with the methods used by the International Monetary Fund, Belarus’ international reserves are defined as marketable foreign assets, which consist of monetary gold, the country’s special drawing rights in the IMF, the country’s reserve position in the IMF and foreign currency reserves. The reserve assets can be promptly used for money market interventions in order to stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, to finance the import of goods and services by the government, for paying and servicing the foreign national debt and for other purposes.
In January-October 2009 Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated using national methods increased by $1079.4 million (29.5%) to $4741.6 million. In October the reserves were up by 12.6%, or $531.9 million.
As of 1 November hard currency accounted for the larger part of the international reserve assets of Belarus ($3006.9 million, or 63.4%) along with precious metals and gems ($1067.8 million, or 22.5%). In January-October the hard currency assets went up by 8.2%, while the volume of precious metals and gems increased by 33.2%. Other assets amounted to $666.9 million, or 14.1%. In January-October they increased eight times.
BelTA reported earlier that the NBRB expects the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves to reach $4.8 billion as of early 2010. In 2010 the gold and currency reserves can increase by $2 billion. This is envisaged in the draft monetary policy guidelines of Belarus.
Pinskdrev boosts export to United States
In January-October 2009 Pinskdrev boosted its export to the United States 14 times to $500,000, BelTA learnt from Dmitry Kirikovich, aide to Pinskdrev’s director general for media relations.
According to him, the upsurge was due to the increase in supplies of veneer and ply curve details after the company had been issued two certificates that confirm the compliance of Pinskdrev’s products with global standards (Carbohydrate requirements and IKEA IOS-MAT-0003 AA-10899-8). These certificates facilitate the export both to the USA and Europe.
In January-September 2009 Pinskdrev expanded its export to Kazakhstan to $8 million (19.8% up on the same period 2008); Ukraine - to $3 million (31.1%), Lithuania - to $3 million (29%), Latvia – to $961,000 (300%), Estonia - $520,000 (470%), Slovakia – to $284 (250%), Turkey - $66,000 (240%).
Pinskdrev is entering new markets. This year the company delivered first consignments to France, Sweden, Greece, Mongolia, Austria, Afghanistan, Great Britain and Finland.
Today Pinskdrev sells into 34 countries. Furniture accounted for 51.2% of export, veneer and bent parts for 23.4%, matches for 10.4%, and chipboards for 10.3%.
In January-October Pinskdrev reported $55 million of export sale. This is less than in the same period last year. The fall is due to the global economic recession. To make up for the losses, the company partially redirected the commodity flows to the domestic market.
Pinskdrev Holding Company incorporates 33 independent subsidiaries including several joint upholstered furniture manufactures, joint ventures producing wood particle board, plywood, several upholstered furniture manufactures, a timber industry enterprise, a timber mill, a matches factory and others. Pinskdrev manufactures all kinds of household and office furniture, veneer, bent parts, matches, chipboard, construction and furniture veneer, and saw-timber. The company employs more than 6,000 people. Pinskdrev accounted for 22% of the output of the Bellesbumprom concern in H1 2009.
Belarus plans maiden eurobond in 2010-finmin
The former Soviet republic has seen its economy dented badly by deteriorating demand from the recession-routed Russia and Europe, its chief exports markets, forcing it to look for sources of external funding.
Kharkovets said Belarus has been offered 'significant' loans by Russia's largest bank Sberbank, which will cover a large part of Belarus' external financing needs this year.
'The size of financing is yet to be determined, it will likely be a mid-term facility and the deal is expected to be closed by the end of this year,' a source familiar with the talks told Reuters.
Sberbank was not immediately available for comment and Kharkovets did not specify the amounts either of the loans or the eurobond. He did not say which currency it would be issued in -- a eurobond is a bond issued externally by a country in a foreign currency.
Belarus is one of the least reformed of the pre-1990 eastern bloc and, beyond exports, has been largely reliant on cheap gas and other resources from its bigger neighbours to get by.
In September, the government sharply lowered its 2009 gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to growth of 1-2 percent, against earlier estimates of a 2-5 percent expansion.
The country has already secured a $3.63 billion stabilisation loan from the International Monetary Fund, and a $1.5 billion from the Russian government. But in May, Russia delayed disbursing a further $500 million, saying it was worried about the creditworthiness of Belarus.
'If Russia's not extending them financing, then they're going to be more dependent on capital markets,' said Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief strategist with Deutsche Bank ( DB - news - people ) in Moscow.
Belarus' external debt stands at $17 billion as of July, according to central bank data.
The cash-strapped country will be joining a litany of other economies planning sovereign debt issuance to find financing for the surge in fiscal deficits, run up by efforts to fend off recession after last year's financial turmoil.
Russia is set to issue up to $18 billion of eurobonds next year, returning to the market after a decade, while Kazakhstan is eyeing a $500 million placement .
Developing countries will be most likely be dealt higher spreads on their bonds, the World Bank said in a recent report.
'Many institutions that have provided financial intermediation for developing country clients have virtually disappeared,' the Bank said.
Belarus has discussed plans for raising a eurobond since 2007 as part of plans to raise capital on international markets. But the issue has repeatedly been postponed in connection with unfavourable conditions on world markets.
In July, Nadezhda Yermakova, head of major state-controlled bank Belarusbank, said that Belarus may issue its delayed maiden eurobond this year, worth $500 million..
Deutsche Bank's Lissovolik said the rather small size of the Eurobond might work to the country's advantage.
'If they offer good term to investors, then yes, they can be successful in neutralising the adverse conditions (crowded competition),' Lissovolik said.
EU to extend freezing of sanctions on Belarus
|The United States imposed economic sanctions against Belarus for its continued suppression of pro-democracy activists.|
The European Union imposed a visa ban on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of other officials after he was accused of rigging his 2006 re-election. But the ban was suspended in October 2008 in order to encourage reforms.
A draft statement due to be approved by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next Monday and Tuesday said the suspension would be extended until October 2010 to encourage further changes.
The draft statement said the recent release of political prisoners had opened up the possibility for 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.
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.
As well as political reforms, the EU wants Belarus to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and move rapidly towards its abolition.
Behemoths in Belarus belie stalling economy
The reason for the enormous inventories is that the government – through the four largest state-controlled banks – has pumped cash into the state-owned enterprises that make up three-quarters of the economy.
The International Monetary Fund foresees no contraction in Belarus this year, in contrast to the deep recessions taking place in neighbouring Ukraine and Russia. Keeping state enterprises afloat has preserved jobs – unemployment is officially only 1 per cent.
However, the policy could be storing up trouble for the banking system. Andrei Kobyakov, the country's deputy prime minister, says that the banking system’s non-performing loans are only 4 per cent. But Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, says problem assets in the financial system could rise to as high as 35-50 per cent “in a reasonable worst-case scenario”.
An overwhelmed banking system would have the potential to shake the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president.
“What is happening now is a question of Lukashenko holding on to power,” says Irina Tochitsky, deputy director of the IPM Research Centre, an economic policy think-tank. “His ratings are closely tied to people’s view of the economy.”
Mr Lukashenko is trying to reform the economy and attract vital foreign investment without losing political control. Until 2007, Belarus was a very strong performer despite undertaking almost no economic reforms. But that year Russia tired of supporting its smaller neighbour and began to demand higher prices for oil and gas.
Pushed to the wall by Moscow, Mr Lukashenko began a tentative opening to the west, releasing political prisoners in the hope of attracting much-needed investments. He also undertook a series of economic reforms, reducing red tape, ending government price controls for most goods in shops and taking steps to privatise some state assets.
Belarus shot up the ranks in the World Bank’s Doing Business survey. But since the onset of the global crisis, there have been no big privatisations, and little new foreign investment. Although Belarus announced on Friday it was considering its first eurobond issue – at least €250m-300m – next year.
“There is a much lower risk appetite than two years ago: it’s a more difficult environment for frontier markets,” says Valdas Vitkauskas, head of the local office of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
So the government has returned to the Soviet-era tradition of steering the economy by administrative fiat.
Mr Lukashenko decreed that businesses should produce at least 80 per cent of last year’s production. “Any further drop is impossible,” the president said while visiting a ball bearing plant.
But exports have fallen 50 per cent so state-owned companies such as Belaz have run up enormous inventories, which they are now frantically trying to sell off in markets beyond the former Soviet Union.
“Russia and Ukraine are priorities, but we are pushing hard to expand to foreign markets,” says Vladislav Rudkovski, marketing director of Belaz.
Belarus received much-needed foreign help this year, in the form of a $2.5bn standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund in January, followed by another $1bn in June.
But a 20 per cent devaluation against the dollar earlier this year, and the prospects of slow growth next year, are challenging the generous welfare state built by Mr Lukashenko.
“It’s hard to radically change direction without changing the leadership,” says Pavel Daneyko, an economist with the non-government Belarusian Research Centre.
Belarusian Parliamentarians To Visit South Ossetia, Abkhazia
Syarhey Matskevich, the chairman of the parliamentary International Affairs Commission, told journalists on November 5 that the group will meet with Georgian officials in Tbilisi and visit its breakaway regions from November 17-20. He said the parliamentary group will also hold talks on the issue with members of the Russian State Duma in Moscow.
Matskevich said that after the visit the commission will decide if it is necessary to hold a debate in parliament over the possible recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia recognized the two Georgian regions after a five-day war with Georgian forces in August 2008.
Nicaragua and Venezuela have in recent months also recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has pressured Minsk to also recognize the regions as independent, though the European Union has sought to keep Belarus from taking such a move.
The EU is scheduled to discuss lifting sanctions against Belarus on November 16, one day before the Belarusian delegation travels to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Sidorski asks Russia “not to dissect like a knife one organism”
From: Charter '97
“The most important thing is not to cut the living organism, not to destroy what has been done before us, recognize what has been signed by us, and develop the economies of our states on this basis,” Sidorski said at a press-conference in Minsk on Thursday, Interfax informs.
Syarhei Sidorski noted that earlier the sides agreed that they won’t use protectionist measures against each other. However, as said by Prime Minister, the economic crisis has “revealed many questions”. He underlined that joint anti-crisis plan hasn’t been implemented in full measure. At the same time, Sidorski noted that Russia’s support to its manufacturers, and Belarus’ support of its manufacturers should be treated with understanding.
Sidorski underlined that considerable decrease of trade turnover with Russia this year is painful for Belarus. “We expected that being a supplement of the Russian economy in items where it is necessary for them, we would be present at the Russian market, but so far we have to open new countries,” the prime minister said.
Sidorski has also informed that in the first half of 2010 Belarus and Russia are to continue talks on conditions of Russian oil deliveries to Belarus taking into account the beginning of the practical work of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan since July 1, 2010.
“Agreement on oil will be extended till July 1, 2010. For the first half of the next year talks will be continued,” Sidorski said.
He reminded that in the end of November final decision of Belarusian, Russian and Kazakh presidents on creation of the Customs Union of the three countries since January 1, 2010 is to be adopted. In case these decisions would be passed “since July 1, 2010 we are going to the exterior perimeter of the border, and all systems of control would be lifted inside,” Sidorski said.
In this connection these agreements “give a possibility to hold talks taking into account the Customs Union,” Belarusian Prime Minister said.
Sidorski has also stated that transition to equal oil prices should be made simultaneously with Russia.
According to the Prime Minister, when selling a 50% block of shares of Beltransgaz to Gazprom the sides agreed (at the highest level) on the equal gas prices.
Previous agreements of Belarusian and Russian leadership envisaged equal prices since January 1, 2011. Meanwhile, Sidorski reminded that Russia took a decision to postpone the transition to the prices equal with European ones for 2014-2016. “Thus Belarus has a legitimate right to negotiate this issue,” Sergei Sidorsky said.
Sidorski reminded that over the last three years gas prices for Belarus were growing annually. “Prices are falling on the international market while for Belarus gas is getting more expensive every year. Why should the gas prices for Belarus be increasing in 2010 when they are falling worldwide? We have posed this question to our Russian colleagues,” he said. Gazprom and Beltransgaz are to continue negotiations and make proposals to governments.
Andrei Zhuk’s mother addressed Belarusian president asking to pardon her son
‘Yes, Andrei is guilty. Of course, he had no right to deprive these people of life in any circumstances. However, now I see that my son is killed before my eyes, and I don’t want and cannot put up with it. He and we, his relatives, will till the end of our days beg the victims’ families and God to pardon him for this vile sin. I want to ask the president to give Andrei a chance to expiate his guilt by work and try to earn the pardon of the victims’ families,’ explained Sviatlana Zhuk during the press-conference in Minsk.
The event was attended by the representative of the Human Rights Center Viasna Valiantsin Stefanovich, an initiator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty, and the representative of the international human rights organization Amnesty International Heather McGill, expert on Belarus.
In her speech Heather McGill voiced the opinion of the international human rights community that Belarus must refuse from this inhuman kind of punishment.
‘One of the problems is the suffering the death penalty brings to the convicts’ relatives. The decision of the UN Human Rights Committee of 1999 equals the secrecy surrounding the death penalty in Belarus to torturing the relatives. The death convicts don’t know when they will be shot and their relatives don’t know anything at all about them. It is a terrible ordeal for the people. It is also quite hard for the convicts who are waiting to be brought to execution. It is terrible for the relatives who know nothing. They cannot say goodbye, receive any belongings and the body and won’t be informed where it was buried,’ stated H.McGill.
The human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovich took the floor after Andrei’s mother read her address.
‘It is difficult to say anything after the mother’s words. This situation demonstrates the essence of the death penalty. At present the state is slowly killing the son before his mother’s eyes. Of course, the parents suffer a great pain and loss and live waiting for the moment when it can happen. That’s why we, human rights defenders, stand for introduction of the moratorium on the death penalty in our country and think that the right time for it has come. We have submitted communications to the UN Human Rights Committee concerning the latest death sentences – to Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk. These communications were accepted for consideration. Then we sent written addresses to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Presidential Administration to inform them that the communications have been registered by the Committee and these organs, that bear the legal responsibility for execution of sentences, must suspend the execution of these death sentences till the consideration on the merits of the communications by the UN Human Rights Committee,’ said Valiantsin Stefanovich.
Obama: New START Nuke treaty with Russia by end of year
Mr. Obama said he's still confident that a new treaty can get done by the end of year, though, keep in mind agreeing to a treaty and getting it through the Senate are two different things.
According to senior officials, the two were to spend a lion's share of their time together discussing START. However, the president, after the meeting told reporters that they did talk about Iran and Afghanistan as well.
On Iran and the stalled P5+1 talks regarding the country's nuclear fuel issues, the president said,"We're now running out of time." And for the first time, the president publicly admitted that the Iranians have basically rejected the deal that was on the table. Previously, the administration had been hesitant to criticize the Iranians publicly for their stalled answer to the proposal involving inspections and their nuclear fuel issue. He added that the two leaders talked about how they could create urgency with the Iranians.
Interestingly, at the end of his remarks, the president said he believed "the reset button has worked," a reference to a prop Sec/State Clinton used in her first meeting with her Russian counterpart this spring. At the time, many had a little fun at the U.S.'s expense because the word "reset" was mis-translated on the button-prop the Secretary used.
The president has met privately with Medvedev four times -- more than any other world leader since taking office. The two held bilaterals in London in April at the G20, in New York in September at the opening of the UN General Assembly and, of course, in Moscow last July.
Mr. Medvedev's glasnost
Mr. Medvedev's basic point was that Mr. Putin had failed to move Russia away from the relatively backward economy, rotten infrastructure and aggressive foreign policy of the former Soviet Union. He recited a damning litany of legacies: "a primitive raw materials economy"; "an archaic society in which the leaders think and decide for everyone"; and "chaotic" foreign and domestic policies "dictated by nostalgia and prejudice." We couldn't have said it better.
Mr. Medvedev again acknowledged his country's runaway corruption, including in its security forces. He boldly stated that "our most serious domestic political problem" lies in Chechnya, Ingushetia and other Caucasus republics, where "the level of corruption, violence and cronyism . . . is unprecedented." He suggested that Russia's foreign policy had been "full of hot air" and ought to become more "pragmatic" and more cooperative with the Western democracies, whose investments and technology Russia needs to modernize.
The "effectiveness" of Russia's foreign policy, the president said, "should be judged by a single criterion: Does it contribute to improving living standards in our country?" That suggests a radical change from Mr. Putin's approach, which has been aimed at restoring Moscow's dominion over former Soviet republics and gaining political leverage over the United States and its European allies.
Several Russian media outlets reported that Mr. Putin, who now holds the post of prime minister, looked unhappy in his front-row seat as Mr. Medvedev spoke. But there's no telling for sure whether the speech represented a challenge to Mr. Putin's authority or an effort to create the sort of inviting but false facade that has been a feature of Russian politics for centuries. Opposition activists were quick to note that Mr. Medvedev had nothing to say about the murders of human rights activists and journalists, or about the gross fraud recently perpetrated by the ruling party in local elections; they dismissed his modest list of political reforms as meaningless.
Still, it's worth remembering that the political transformation that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this month began with another Kremlin leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, speaking unaccustomed truths about his country. A lot of people then believed that Mr. Gorbachev didn't mean it, or had no ability to act on his words; they were proved wrong. Let's hope that those of us who have doubted Mr. Medvedev's capacity to reverse Russia's descent into authoritarianism and aggression will be pleasantly surprised as well.
'Body sold' to Russia kebab shop
The men were held in the city of Perm, some 1,400km (870 miles) east of Moscow, local investigators said.
Their statement said that the suspects had targeted the 25-year-old victim out of "personal hostility".
It was not clear when the incident occurred. The men - who have not been named - have been charged with murder.
The investigators said on Friday that the body of the man had been found in a forested area near a public transport stop in Perm.
They said the three men attacked their victim with knives and a hammer.
"After carrying out the attack, the corpse was dismembered. Part of it was eaten and part was also sold to a kebab and pie kiosk," their statement said.
It was not immediately clear if any customers had been served.
Sex scandal in the Sejm
“It happened on the first day of my work in the Sejm. I was totally shocked,” she told the daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
“One of the MPs, not from my party, accosted me in a very direct way, he may even have used the word ‘baby’, and asked me for my room number at the hotel I was staying in.
“It was a miracle I didn’t slap him in the face,” she added, declining to reveal the identity of the pervy MP.
“It’s terrible, disgraceful and completely unworthy of our politicians,” said lawyer Jacek Kondracki, adding there may be a criminal investigation.
“If he served as a senior member to Mrs Mucha then we are dealing with the sexual harassment of a subordinate, which is a crime,” he said.
A few months after the incident, Mucha says she moved out of the hotel reserved especially for Sejm members.
“Through the thin walls you can hear everything - at night it is horrible. One can neither work nor sleep. I wanted privacy because I came to Warsaw to work - you just can’t live there,” she revealed.
It has yet to be decided whether criminal proceedings will begin.
Abuse in Polish schools on the rise
According to the newspaper Metro, there has been an increase in the number of complaints made by students who claim that teachers using abusive language, skipping classes and turning up to work drunk is becoming more and more commonplace.
But it’s not only psychological abuse that is on the rise. The number of reported cases of physical abuse in the classroom has also increased says the paper.
During this year alone in the eastern city of Lublin, six teachers have been reprimanded as a result of using corporal punishment as a means of disciplining children.
In 2007, a disciplinary commission in Lublin received 13 calls to begin procedures against teachers - this year the total figure was three times that amount. Other cities have also witnessed the number of cases grow - Krakow’s individual cases have risen from 20 to 36 in the last two years.
In accordance with Polish law, teachers who abuse their powers can be punished in either one of three ways:
“There are three possibilities: reprimand with a warning, dismissal from work, and - most severe - expulsion from the profession,” explains Alexander Smith, from the Board of Education in Krakow, citing the Teachers’ Charter.
Last year in Krakow, 10 were reprimanded, three made redundant and one forbidden from teaching again.
ZUS in trouble, again
The agency faces a giant revenue gap of some PLN 9 bln this year, the newspaper estimates.
Poland's state-run social insurance agency has been subsidized by funds from the general budget for years, but with government deficit spending set to reach record levels this year, the agency's budget gap will be harder than ever to fill.
In part, this is because the government has budgeted less money than needed to fund ZUS in order to keep its 2009 budget numbers from looking even worse. According to a statement from ZUS, its deficit "results mainly from a lower than anticipated rise in social security tax income in relation to payments made to beneficiaries."
Rises in unemployment and the number of pensioners have squeezed the agency in terms of both revenue and expenses. Moreover, pensions have risen this year, though only just enough to keep up with inflation.
The head of ZUS Zbigniew Derdziuk denies the problems are so serious. He estimates that the agency's deficit will only reach PLN 5.5. bln and that it can secure sufficient bank financing to cover the PLN 2.3 bln it will need to borrow this year. Last week, the government announced a plan to cut the amount of money going to the private Open Retirement Funds from 7.3 per cent to 3 per cent of salaries in an effort to help ZUS shore up its finances. Economists, pension fund managers, and the public have all lined up against the idea.
According to a recent poll by IQS, 66 percent of Poles are strongly against the new plan, while only 14 percent are in favour. Many economists have argued that the proposal is just a quick fix to shore up public finances, and will not solve longer-term problems facing the retirement system, which are rooted in declining demographics and a retirement age that remains among Europe's lowest in spite of recent changes that have reduced early retirements.
Bogus?aw Grabowski, a former member of the Monetary Policy Council member and current head of the TFI Skarbiec fund, sees raising taxes as less harmful than the government's new plan, which he said was aimed at achieving "short-term political goals." "The collapse of the retirement system is worse than a breakdown in public finances because it is long term," he told TVN-24.
Although the government has not released data on the finances of the National Health Fund, the state-run healthcare system also appears to be facing a deficit this year. Yet unlike ZUS, the fund has sufficient reserves to meet its current needs, according to Rzeczpospolita.]
"Voodoo made me impotent”
Distraught hubby Janusz Rekawa (57) from Minsk Mazowiecki in eastern Poland says he discovered his wife Urszula had began an affair with the voodoo man whilst she was holidaying at a spa.
“She was going there quite a lot and talking about this amazing man, so I decided to go down and see what was going on,” said Rekawa.
When he arrived in the southern village of Rymanow-Zdroj his worst fears were realised. “I sat opposite him and I looked into his eyes. He admitted to the affair and then started talking a load of nonsense and I realised I was going to get no real sense about what had happened from him, so I decided to leave and go and talk to my wife, who was back home by then.”
But as Rekawa was leaving, the modern-day sorcerer came running out after him.
“The shaman began to tear up grass and threw it at my car. He was screaming at me in an incomprehensible language. I thought he’d lost it so I got out of there fast.”
On the way home Rekawa says he began to feel ill and that he was losing strength. For a long time after, he found it difficult to work and says he felt physically drained.
But he adds he had no idea how powerful the magic man was. “It turns out that he not only took my strength but also my manhood. He put a curse on me and has made me impotent.
“I have been to exorcists, but they say they cannot help me. I used to be full of vigour and lust but now I’m like an empty can of soup.”
The fighting rabbi, Foreman adds 'world champ' to his resume
With a better connect rate throughout, it was more than enough for Foreman to get his first world title via unanimous decision 116-110, 117-109 and 117-109.
Foreman was the slicker fighter throughout. His jab, fighting out of a southpaw stance, puffed up Santos below his right eye. Santos eventually suffered a cut on the edge of the eye in the eleventh round.
Foreman suffered a cut over left eye early in the fight but his corner did a nice job of managing the wound.
The Puerto Rican looked sluggish at times. Maybe it was the big weight gain after Friday's weigh-in. Foreman was 161 pounds tonight, while Santos was 173. Foreman pointed out during the postfight press conference that he noticed how big Santos looked at the start of the figt.
Foreman outlanded Santos 146-105 and connected at higher percentage (29-24).
Foreman's story can be described as the American dream. Born into poverty in Belarus, he moved to Israel as a child and then New York as a 19-year-old. Five years ago, he began studying to be a rabbi on the advice of his girlfriend, who is also a professional boxer and model.
Saudi Arabia 1-1 Belarus: Honours Even Between Saudis And Ten-Man Belarussians
After 20 minutes Timofei Kalachev set up Maxim Bordachev to give the visitors, lacking Aliaksandr Hleb, a lead.
But three minutes later Belarus goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov was sent off amidst controversial circumstances. With Yasser Al Qahtani blocking his attempts to kick the ball clear, he blasted it straight at the player and was given a red card for his troubles.
On came substitute goalkeeper Anton Amelchenko, but just a few minutes later he was picking the ball out of his net as Ahmed Faridi jinked past Sergei Sosnowski before crossing for Nasser Al-Shamrani to head home.
The hosts could not make more of their numeric advantage despite enjoying the best of the second period, and Belarus' counter-attacks similary failed to pay off: 1-1 it ended.
Belarus hammer throwers face new delay for doping hearing at CAS to win back Olympic medals
The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Thursday that a new delay means Vadim Devyatovskiy and Ivan Tsikhan will plead their case over three days from Jan. 25-27.
The hearing was originally set for one day last July, then put back until Dec. 4-5.
Devyatovskiy and Tsikhan won silver and bronze medals at the Beijing Games, then tested positive for abnormal levels of testosterone.
The International Olympic Committee disqualified the pair last December.
Devyatovskiy could face a lifetime ban for his second doping offense. Tsikhan is a three-time world champion.
2010 Winter Olympics: Tried-and-true approach may be Belarus' best hope
|Days until the opening game of the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament on Feb. 16 --92|
As a result, the selections tend to be fairly static, with major alterations made to the roster only in case of injury to a key player. It doesn't so much matter what the players have done during the season with their club teams. It's more about what they've brought to the national team in recent years.
The modest pool of roster contenders is the bad news for Team Belarus General Manager Arthur Rekshta. The good news is that the team often overachieves, because it is a cohesive and experienced squad.
Apart from its historic Olympic upset of Sweden in 2002, the Belarusians have also fared surprisingly well at the IIHF World Championships. Under the direction of former Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, the Belarusians earned a pair of trips to the medal round of the IIHF World Championships.
Hanlon, who has been fired as head coach as Dynamo Minsk, recently decided to step down as Team Belarus head coach less than four months before the Olympics. A successor has yet to be named but an announcement is likely in early December.
Nevertheless, the foundation is there to score a few more upsets.
"The players' attitude to training and games has changed," Hanlon said at his farewell press conference. "They understand that playing for the national team is a great honor."
As Team Belarus general manager, I would attempt to impart as much stability as possible. The typical Team Belarus roster is anchored by savvy veterans on defense. The team usually has a bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy and relies on forwards to help out on the backcheck.
Belarus must be opportunistic offensively because it usually gets out-chanced. By necessity, I would craft the same sort of team – with mostly the same players – who appeared at the most recent World Championships.
Andrei Mezin, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- The 35-year-old Mezin has extensive international experience and has shown the ability to get hot at times. He's had a solid KHL season so far with Dynamo Minsk and was outstanding at the World Championships this past spring (4-1 record, 1.72 goals against average, .948 save percentage). He's unlikely to be phased by the atmosphere and crowds in Vancouver.
Vitali Koval, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- The 29-year-old Koval gave a solid account of himself at the 2008 World Championships, posting a commendable .912 save percentage in six starts. He had a pair of starts at the most recent Worlds, backing up Mezin. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Koval covers a lot of net, especially in close. He backs up Mezin in the KHL for Dynamo Minsk, but could be a starter on some clubs.
Igor Brikun, HK Gomel (Belarus Open League) -- The 23-year-old has excelled in Belarus Open League, which also includes clubs from Latvia and Ukraine. The caliber of play is a step below Russia's top minor league (Vysshaya) in terms of its overall quality and depth of talent. More importantly, he has compiled experience playing for the junior national team and has served as the third goaltender for the senior team.
Ruslan Salei, Colorado Avalanche -- Back problems have limited the gritty veteran blueliner to one game this season, but he's a lock for the Olympics if his health permits it. The 35-year-old could return to the Colorado lineup by December, giving him plenty of time to get ready for the Olympics. As usual, he would fill a leadership role on Team Belarus and log a lot of ice time.
Vladimir Denisov, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- After two seasons in the American Hockey League, Denisov accepted an offer to return home to play for Minsk. In international competition, he often plays 20-plus minutes per game for Team Belarus, including time on the power play.
Sergei Kolosov, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) -- The big (6-4, 217 pounds) defenseman is in his second season of North American pro hockey after cutting his teeth at the USHL level. The 23-year-old Detroit Red Wings hopeful is at his best when he keeps his game simple.
Aleksandr Ryadinsky, Yunost Minsk (Belarus Open League) -- The 31-year-old backliner has been a regular on the Belarusian national team since 2003 and averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time per game at the World Championships in Switzerland this past spring. The 6-2, 207-pound defensive defenseman plays with a bit of a physical edge to his game and is arguably talented enough to play in the KHL.
Viktor Kostyuchenok, Amur Khabarovsk (KHL) -- The 30-year-old Kostyuchenok has been a regular starter on Team Belarus for the past five years. While he's been an inconsistent player in the KHL, his international experience makes him a solid Belarusian national team candidate for the Olympics.
Andrei Bashko, Shaktar Soligorsk (Belarus Open League) -- The 27-year-old defenseman has become a regular on the senior national team during the past few years. He performed well in the Olympic qualification tournament and held his own at the World Championships. He also has KHL experience. Bashko could do a commendable job in a third-pairing defensive role.
Ivan Usenko, HK Gomel (Belarus Open League) -- A former member of the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, the 26-year-old Usenko cracked the Belarusian senior national team last year. Although he struggled at the 2009 World Championships, his mobility and occasional offensive flair -- he has cracked double-digit goals in the domestic league -- deserve another look in a third-pairing or seventh defenseman role.
Mikhail Grabovski, Toronto Maple Leafs -- This is a no-brainer selection, along with the Kostitsyn brothers. In Vancouver, Grabovski will see all the ice time he can handle -- no matter what happens between now and then during the NHL season.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens -- It's been a tumultuous year for both Kostitsyn brothers. Andrei, the elder, has had a miserable season for the Habs. Nevertheless, the slate will be wiped clean (at least from Team Belarus' standpoint) by the time the Olympics roll around. There's no other choice, as there aren't any other players available with multiple 20-goal NHL seasons on their resume. Both brothers will play on the top line at the Olympics.
Sergei Kostitsyn, Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL) -- A minor-league demotion and a pair of suspensions for refusing to play at the AHL level are not be a deterrent from selecting the 22-year-old Kostitsyn to play an important role for Team Belarus. Again, it is partially a matter of necessity and partially an outgrowth of the fact that international hockey performance can be a whole different animal than the NHL showing. One would figure that Sergei, in particular, would be motivated to bring his A-game to Vancouver.
Alexei Ugarov, HK Balashikha MVD (KHL) -- The 2010 Games will be his first Olympic tourney, but the 24-year-old winger already has three World Championships under his belt, and has scored seven goals and 10 points in his last 12 major international games. He has demonstrated in the KHL that he is skilled with the puck and knows how to finish plays when he's open in the slot.
Konstantin Koltsov, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL) -- The former Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick was a bust in the NHL, but is now a mainstay in the KHL and a proven national team player for Belarus. However, he will need to better his performance from the most recent World Championships.
Alexei Kalyuzhny, Dynamo Moscow (KHL) -- A standout in the former Russian Super League and a solid performer in the successor Kontinental Hockey League, the 33-year-old center is a lock for the Olympics. Don't be surprised if his name gets on the scoresheet a few times against high-profile teams in Vancouver.
Mikhail Stefanovich, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) -- Selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round (No. 98) of the 2008 Entry Draft, the 20-year-old would be the youngest player on my Team Belarus roster. While he would probably not see much ice time (young players rarely do for European teams) the Olympic experience would be invaluable. The youngster boasts a quick and accurate wrist shot and above-average offensive instincts.
Oleg Antonenko, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg (KHL) -- The 38-year-old Antonenko is a senior statesman on Team Belarus and has played in two previous Olympics, as well as the qualifiers for Vancouver. Even at his advancing age, he was clutch for the Belarusians at the 2009 World Championships, scoring 3 goals and 6 points in seven games.
Andrei Mikhalev, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- A five-year veteran of the Belarusian senior national team, Mikhalev hasn't played as well so far during the KHL season as he did a year ago when he scored 14 times in 55 games. Nevertheless, the 30-year-old former QMJHL (Chicoutimi) and CHL right winger is a virtual shoo-in for a roster spot in Vancouver.
Alexander Kulakov, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- The 26-year-old has been a regular on the national team for the past few years and merits another call. He was one of the bright young offensive stars of the Belarusian league, but serves as more of a role player in the tougher KHL. Kulakov suited up in all seven games at the 2009 World Championships and was one of his team's most pleasant surprises at the Worlds two years earlier.
Sergei Zadelenov, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) – Another long-time member of the national team and a former scoring champion in the Belarusian league, the 33-year-old Zadelenov has been plagued by injuries. If healthy, there's certainly room on Team Belarus for a player who averaged a point-per-game at the World Championships two years ago. The center lacks size and often gets overpowered by big North American opponents, but he's skilled with the puck.
Yaroslav Chupris, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) -- The 28-year-old winger has been a star in the Belarusian league and a regular on the national team for the past three years. While his performance in the KHL and major international play will not turn many heads, he earned the trust of Hanlon enough to play in all game situations at the 2009 Worlds.
Sergei Demagin, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik (KHL) -- One of the younger candidates for the national team at age 23, Demagin starred in the Belarusian national league and cracked the KHL with Dynamo Minsk before being transferred to Neftekhimik earlier this season. He dressed in all seven games at the 2009 Worlds and scored his first goal at the international senior level. This would be his first Olympics.
Evgeni Kovyrshin, Keramin Minsk (Belarus Open League) -- The 23-year-old dressed in all seven games for Belarus at the 2009 Worlds, playing on the fourth line. He has proven to be a responsible two-way player in the domestic league and could skate a few Olympic shifts without hurting his team defensively.
2010 preliminary round groups
Group A: Canada (2), Norway (11), Switzerland (7), United States (5)
Group B: Czech Republic (6), Latvia (10), Russia (1), Slovakia (9)
Group C: Belarus (8), Finland (4), Germany (12), Sweden (3)