2010 targets, IMF, EBRD, WTO, Trade Union, Internet Censorship, Russia, Abkhazia and S Ossetia, Arms flight; News, Sport, Culture and Polish Scandal
Belarus President urges unconditional fulfillment of 2010 targets
“It has become traditional to discuss topical issues of our state’s development. This practice has proved efficient; it enables us to timely coordinate the activities of the national and local authorities. Promptitude is what we badly need today,” the President said.
“Several weeks are left before the new year starts. The other day I have signed fundamental documents setting the objectives of the social and economic development for this period,” the head of state reminded. The President approved the most important forecasts and targets of the monetary policy of the Republic of Belarus. A law on the national budget will be adopted in the near future.
“To put it straight, the targets that we set are extremely high and ambitious. But their fulfillment is a matter of honour for us,” Alexander Lukashenko underlined. He added that it makes no sense to speculate whether these targets are high or not. The documents have been approved, they have become a law. “However we should understand that only by materializing our goals we will be able to make up for the setback caused by the global crisis, restore the high economic growth rate, complete the current five-year term successfully and fulfill everything that we pledged at the Third All-Belarus People's Assembly. Of course, we have to spare no effort to achieve this,” the President added.
We have talked about it a lot. Everybody knows what goals we have to meet. Today we need to discuss how we are going to reach them, Alexander Lukashenko said.
There is no force majeure like last year, the head of state said. The global economy and the neighboring markets are recovering. “Let’s work, look for new approaches to getting these goals implemented,” the President urged.
“We are not going to cover all the problems during this meeting because it precedes the big meeting which will sum up the 2009 results. It is when we will assess the performance of all management bodies for the past four years. We will analyze in detail what has been done. If necessary, we will adjust the actions of all managerial structures to end the five-year term on a good note,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Today’s meeting focuses on the main areas of work to reverse the negative tendencies in the economy and the 2010 goals. Urgent issues of foreign trade, economic and social life are also discussed.
Belarus President: potential of Union State Treaty not fulfilled in full
Over the past years Belarus and Russia managed to advance a lot in the Union State integration, but the potential of the Union State Treaty has not been fulfilled to the full extent, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with a delegation of the Chelyabinsk oblast in Minsk on 15 December, BelTA has learnt.
In his welcome address, Alexander Lukashenko underlined that the visits of representatives of Russian regions became a good tradition. “The discussion of topical cooperation issues during such meetings helps most fully employ the cooperation potential and outline new goals in its development. This way we contribute to the implementation of the Union State Treaty signed 10 years ago. What matters most, we fill it with concrete content,” the President said.
He reminded that at the recent session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State the countries agreed on a joint action plan for the immediate future. “The reality proves: projects implemented together are more successful, with cooperation prospects being wide and diversified,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Belarus starts setting up national space agency
“The formation of the new structure has already been launched, many ministries agreed that it is necessary to create a system of control over projects in space exploration and space technologies,” Piotr Vityaz said. “Such a system is to be set up and run by the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. The government will decide how the new structure will be called,” he added.
Setting up this new organization is envisaged in the national programme for peaceful exploration of outer space for 2008-2012. The new organization will address all the issues related to space exploration, including with the help of the new Belarusian satellite that will be launched in 2010.
The new Belarusian satellite will be lighter (around 400kg) and more maneuverable, with 2m resolution. The Belarusian satellite will cover the entire territory of Belarus. The satellite data will be used for conducting ecological and land use monitoring, prevention of emergency situations, upgrading topographic maps, and for other purposes.
A satellite command and tracking station is being constructed in the Logoisk region, Minsk oblast. The station will have an aerial system that will collect satellite data which will be transferred to the satellite control center headquartered in the NASB Unified Informatics Institute in Minsk.
EU seeks broader engagement with Belarus
“Beginning late 2008 the European Union has been seeking closer cooperation with Belarus. It is attributed to positive changes that are taking place in your country,” Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira said.
In his words, some agencies within the EU regularly revise the situation in countries bordering the European Union. He reiterated, “We are determined to expand cooperation provided Belarus pays due attention to European values.”
Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira said the European Union is “a transparent and predictable organization and it informs its partners about its decisions.”
Sergei Martynov to visit Spain, Austria 16-18 December
Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov will pay a visit to the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Austria on 16-18 December, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.
On 16 December Sergei Martynov is expected to meet with his Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos as well as representatives of the Confederation of Employers and Industries of Spain.
During his visit to Austria on 17-18 December Sergei Martynov plans to hold negotiations with Federal Minister for European and International Affairs of Austria Michael Spindelegger, Vice Chancellor – Finance Minister of Austria Joseph Proll, President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber Christoph Leitl, bank representatives.
A wide range of issues of Belarusian-Spanish and Belarusian-Austrian relations will be considered during the forthcoming meetings and talks. The interaction of Belarus with the EU and other European organizations will be also on the agenda. The prospects of increasing trade, economic and investment cooperation will be discussed during meetings with representatives of the business communities of Spain and Austria.
In 2008 the trade between Belarus and Spain was up by 36.4% over 2007 to $219 million. Exports were down by 7.9% to $22.4 million. Imports from Spain surged by 44.4%. In January -October 2009 the bilateral trade made up $146.1 million, or 83.3% as against the same period last year. Belarus’ exports amounted to $8.1 million, import $138 million.
The trade between Belarus and Austria in 2008 increased by 23.7% to $254.4 million (Belarus export made up $36.9 million, import $217.5million). Amid the global financial and economic crisis the trade in January-October this year was down by 30.7% from the same period 2008 to $139.6 million. Belarusian export shrank by 31.5% to $22.1 million, import for Austria decreased by 30.5% to $117.5 million.
Belarus-France relations advance a lot over past three years
Over the past three years Belarus and France have made great progress in promoting the bilateral cooperation, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said as he met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Belarus Mireille Musso on 15 December, BelTA has learnt.
Mireille Musso will leave Belarus on 18 December upon completing her three-year diplomatic mission. Sergei Sidorsky expressed his regret over her departure. “During the years of your diplomatic mission in Belarus, significant events have taken place in Belarus-France relations,” Sergei Sidorsky said addressing the French Ambassador. Over the last thee years, the bilateral trade has grown 1.5 times, the business cooperation significantly advanced. The Premier underlined that the positive changes took place not only in the economic, but also in the political area.
Sergei Sidorsky sincerely thanked Mireille Musso for her work as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Belarus.
Mireille Musso, on her part, stated, “I am leaving deeply satisfied, with best memories of your country, of hospitable, cordial and courageous Belarusian people. The Belarusian people deserve to be known in Europe.” She added that during her diplomatic mission in Belarus she spared no effort to foster relations between Belarus, France and Europe. In her opinion, the bilateral relations have become “more adequate” over the recent years. The French Ambassador expressed hope that “we will get to know each other better” in the next few years.
Belarus’ report on Georgia, Abkhazia, S Ossetia ready
The report will be submitted to the two chambers of the Belarusian parliament: to the House of Representatives’ permanent commission on international affairs and links with the CIS and the Council of the Republic’s permanent commission on the international affairs and national security.
The decision was taken during a session of a task group in the House of Representatives on 16 December. The task group was set up to prepare the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia sovereignty for the consideration in the National Assembly of Belarus. The heads of the parliamentary delegations that visited Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as Russia (in order to assess the situation in these regions) have presented their reports on the visits.
A delegation of Belarusian MPs consisting of eight deputies of the House of Representatives and four senators of the Council of the Republic was on a visit to Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 17-20 November. The aim of the visit was to study the political and economic situation onsite for the Belarusian parliament to continue the discussion on recognition or non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“We will inform the members of our commission on the content of the report and give them an opportunity to study and discuss it. After that the commission will start examining it scrupulously and formulate its conclusions and recommendations for the further consideration of this issue,” Nina Mazai said.
Belarusian parliamentarians have prepared a complete report on a trip to Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia to assess the situation in those countries. The report was submitted to the two chambers of the Belarusian parliament: the House of Representatives’ Permanent Commission for International Affairs and Links with the CIS and the Council of the Republic’s Permanent Commission for the International Affairs and National Security.
Plans for French painting exhibition in Minsk discussed
According to representatives of the Embassy of Belarus in France, the head of the Belarusian museum visited the Louvre museum following an invitation of Louvre Director Henri Loyrette, who has visited Minsk this year.
The directors of the museums discussed the preliminary list of French paintings that may be put on display at the Belarusian capital city. They talked over cooperation between leading museums of Belarus and France, joint efforts aimed at museumification of the Nesvizh and Mir castles and the restoration of works of art.
Vladimir Prokoptsov got familiar with expositions of the French museum and its working routines.
While in France Vladimir Prokoptsov is also expected to have a meeting at the UNESCO Secretariat to discuss putting on display a work by Ivan Khrutsky in 2010. Ivan Khrutsky is a famous Belarusian painter, the 200th anniversary of whose birthday is on the list of UNESCO’s memorable dates.
Chernobyl movie project to be shot by several countries
Several countries are planning to implement a joint Chernobyl movie project, First Deputy Culture Minister of Belarus Vladimir Rylatko told reporters on 14 December.
"There is a rising tendency towards joint film making in the world. The Brest Fortress movie that is produced jointly by Russian and Belarusian film makers can be a perfect example of this tendency. The shooting period of the movie is over; it is undergoing the post production stage. The film makers are currently considering the possibility of a joint Chernobyl movie project. Taking part in it will be several countries, including Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine," said Vladimir Rylatko.
The second movie project of the Union State is also highly possible to be shot, according to Vladimir Rylatko
At the moment Belarusfilm is planning to shoot historical movies about such persons as Vladimir Korotkevich, Yanka Kupala, Evfrosinia of Polotsk. The national movie project is scheduled to begin in 2010.
Vladimir Rylatko noted that the Belarusfilm studio has almost all the necessary technical facilities and modern equipment for film making.
Belarusian nature pictured by Chinese painters
Belarusian nature will be reflected in pictures of Chinese painters, said Professor Jao Jihua of the Central Arts Institute of the People’s Republic of China at a meeting hosted by the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
A PRC delegation of people of art is now visiting Belarus. The guests have already visited the Berezinsky wildlife sanctuary and were impressed by its astonishing beauty. They also got familiar with pictures painted by Belarusian artists and will take a dozen of oil colors picturing Belarusian landscapes to China.
The Chinese guests believe that Belarusian painters have outstanding skills and their works can be interesting for the Chinese audience. Cultural exchange fosters spiritual enrichment of people of art, inspiring them to create interesting works that would be impossible without cooperation between Belarusian and Chinese artists.
EBRD adopts new strategy for Belarus
|A new three-year strategy will enable the Bank to increase its engagement in this country, subject to the authorities implementing sector-specific reforms promoting a market economy|
A new three-year strategy will enable the Bank to increase its engagement in this country, subject to the authorities implementing sector-specific reforms promoting a market economy.
The strategy was adopted after an extensive consultation process involving civil society organizations in Belarus, the Belarusian authorities, the international community and other important stakeholders.
As in previous strategy periods, the Bank’s overriding priority for Belarus will remain providing support for the development of the private sector.
The EBRD welcomes the greater willingness shown by the authorities towards working with the international community and recognizes that there have been encouraging signs of progress on the political and economic fronts. Further positive developments in these areas would contribute to the creation of a more favorable business environment.
Continued progress in these areas will enable the Bank to increase its activities in Belarus, including working with state-owned entities on a limited and highly selective basis, provided they operate on commercial principles and meet the Bank’s stringent lending criteria. Previous EBRD Board-adopted policies restricted the Bank to financing only private sector projects in Belarus.
The new strategy spells out how the Bank could, for instance, offer technical assistance and potentially financial support for the authorities’ stated intention of developing an open, transparent and competitive privatization programme to build confidence in the process. This would support the package of policy measures agreed between Belarus and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (IBRD) in which privatization plays a prominent role.
The Bank will also consider expanding its dynamic small business lending and trade financing programmes to include, on a selective basis, state-owned banks for the first time, as long as they are commercially oriented and have credible privatization prospects.
Other business priorities for the Bank in Belarus during the new strategy period include promoting energy efficiency and the development of sustainable energy resources; expanding the EBRD’s Trade Facilitation Programme to encourage cross-border business; and providing support for the reform and technical upgrade of environmental infrastructure and municipal services.
The level and scope of the Bank's engagement in Belarus will be calibrated in such as way as to respond to changes in policy direction and progress in implementing a credible reform agenda.
The Bank will continue to conduct an active policy dialogue with the Belarusian authorities on a range of needed reforms and will monitor progress against a set of benchmarks in the political and economic spheres. The criteria the EBRD will use are listed in the strategy document.
The Bank will report every year to its Board of Directors on whatever movements there have been in respect of these benchmarks, thus allowing the EBRD’s management and shareholders to work out an appropriate response to changes on the ground.
Belarus, China to promote regional cooperation
Ways of promoting regional cooperation between Belarus and China were high on the agenda of a meeting of the delegation of the Belarus parliament and representatives of the Chinese province Heilongjiang and the city of Harbin, BelTA has learned.
According to the press service of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, head of the Belarusian delegation, Chairman of the House of Representatives Vladimir Andreichenko met with Secretary of the Party Committee of the Heilongjiang province, Chairman of the Assembly of People’s Representatives of Heilongjiang province Ji Bingxuan on 15 December. The sides discussed trade and economic cooperation, creation of joint ventures in Heilongjiang. The sides also discussed matters relating to stepping up relations between Heilongjiang and the Vitebsk oblast. The two provinces had signed a cooperation agreement.
Members of the Belarusian delegation also visited the corporation Dongjin Group. They met with top executives, representatives of the Belarusian mechanical engineering company Gomselmash and examined the workshops that are supposed to be used to start manufacturing Gomselmash forage harvesters.
Belarus’ fixed-capital investments 12.3% up in January-November
In January-November 2009 fixed-capital and construction investments totaled Br38.1 trillion in Belarus, 12.3% up on the same period of last year in comparable prices, BelTA learnt from representatives of the National Statistics Committee.
In January-November 2009 Br18.7 trillion worth of construction and installation work was fulfilled in Belarus, 22.9% up on January-November 2008.
Investments into manufacturing totaled Br24 trillion, 12.3% up, while other investments amounted to Br13.8 trillion (12.5% up). Investments into manufacturing accounted for 63.7% of the total investments, which is equal to the figure registered in January-November 2008.
In January-November 2009 Br14.8 trillion (3.1% up) was spent on buying machines, equipment and vehicles. These expenses accounted for 38.9% of the total investments, with the share of the money spent on foreign machinery as large as 17.5%. A third of the imported equipment was bought in Belarus.
According to the National Statistics Committee, in January-November 2009 state-run companies used Br19.5 trillion in fixed-capital investments (11.1% up on January-November 2008). National ownership companies used Br8.9 trillion in investments (2.2% up), municipal ownership ones — Br710.6 trillion (19.9% up).
As of 1 December 2009 there were 14,800 manufacturing and non-manufacturing premises under construction (excluding individual developers and small business entities), or 110 objects more than on 1 November 2009. Manufacturing facilities accounted for 42.6% of the total premises under construction. The share of facilities which construction exceeds standard terms (excluding temporarily abandoned and preserved sites) made 40.2%.
BELARUS PRESIDENT SUGGESTS NEW WAYS OF CO-OPERATION WITH RUSSIAN PROVINCES
From: Brunei News
Along with maintaining existing ties, Belarus should create new models of co-operation that would contribute to overcoming negative consequences of the global crisis together, remarked the Belarusian head of state.
Priorities should include enhancing the manufacturing co-operation, realization of joint projects for manufacturing and exporting high-tech and science-intensive products, and expanding the list of exports, he added.
He offered aid in developing projects for building the infrastructure in the Chelyabinsk oblast, in particular, bridges. In addition, an agreement was reached with Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant to start manufacturing reclamative machines with assistance of the Russian company. There are plans to start assembling the machines as early as next year.
President Lukashenko stressed that regional co-operation was an effective area for developing integration processes in the Union State. In view of the fact economic ties with the Chelyabinsk oblast and other regions of Ural are of particular importance, he said.
The head of state reminded that over the last five years, Belarus’ trade with the Chelyabinsk oblast almost tripled and reached US$538 million in 2008. Belarus’ trade with the Urals federal district increased by 170 per cent to a total of US$11.7 billion (34 per cent of Belarus’ total trade with Russia).
The global financial and economic crisis, however, had disallowed producing better
results this year.
“The existing level of manufacturing cooperation indicates that we make a common product. In this situation there should be no hardships regarding the access of commodities to each other’s market,” stressed the president.
“We should take measures to enable Belarusian and Russian manufacturers to enjoy state support without limitations, to have an equal access to government purchases and credit resources. We do it only like that in Belarus.”
President Lukashenko said he was confident that the visit of the Chelyabinsk oblast delegation, led by Governor Piotr Sumin, would advance co-operation with this oblast and other subjects of the Russian Federation to a new level.
IMF: External Constraints Likely To Hinder Belarus Growth
The IMF has provided aid to Belarus, saying an end to large energy subsidies from Russia and a sharp decline in demand for its exports put Belarus in "a highly vulnerable position" at the start of the 2008 collapse.
Belarus has done better than its main trading partners as strong domestic demand helped limit the decline in the Belarus economy to 0.5% year-over-year for the first eight months of 2008, according to the IMF. But the IMF raised concerns about an aggressive expansion of government programs and credit, saying they have lowered Belarus's reserve levels and increased its debt load.
The Belarus government disbursed 40% more in the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2008, and its central bank provided liquidity support to banks on non-market terms, the IMF noted.
IMF directors urged Belarus to gradually phase out generous support for state-owned banks and endorsed its plan to maintain high interest rates and restrain fiscal spending.
"The decision to postpone the increase in public sector wages and to increase charges for transportation and utilities would help rein in spending," the IMF said. It added that limiting Belarus's consolidated budget deficit to the equivalent of 1.7% of its gross domestic product in 2010 should help it meet goals of boosting reserves and containing inflation.
Since Belarus isn't likely to see a return to its pre-crisis boom, the IMF said it needs to pursue ambitious reforms, including privatization, to generate new sources of growth. It also encouraged Belarus to develop nonbank financial institutions and increase the commercial focus of its banks.
On currency, IMF directors said they generally supported recommendations from the IMF staff to permit more flexibility in the exchange rate and for Belarus to consider moving in the medium term toward a more flexible exchange rate regime.
Crew of arrested plane in Thailand say were unaware of arms cache
From: RIA Novosti
The Il-76 cargo plane, carrying about 40 tons of weaponry, was seized after landing for refueling at Bangkok's Don Muang airport on December 12. Officials said the weapons included missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The plane's ultimate destination has not been revealed.
"The Ukrainian air freighter Aviatek and the Georgian company Air West Georgia, the plane's operator, assured us that under the terms of the contract the cargo was civilian," the crew said in a statement announced by a Thai lawyer who visited the crewmembers at Bangkok's Klong Prem Central Prison.
The Bangkok Post on Wednesday quoted a senior police official as saying that the crew would be charged with the illegal possession of explosives, punishable by "from two years to death."
The statement further said that during the loading operation in Pyongyang, the crew was staying in a hotel. "We found a sealed cargo aboard the plane. We only checked the fixings."
"If we had been aware that arms were loaded onto the plane, we would have refused to perform the flight," the statement further said.
Meanwhile, Russian businessman Viktor Bout, who remains in a Thai jail on the charges of illegal arms sales, said he had no relation to the impounded plane.
"The accusations in yesterday's and today's press that the plane of Air West Georgia air cargo company allegedly belonged to one of my companies are fabricated and are completely unfounded," Bout said in a statement.
Former Russian army officer Bout, 42, remains in custody in a Thai jail after the Bangkok Criminal Court refused in August to extradite him to the United States, where he is facing four terrorism-related charges and a possible life sentence.
Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan disavow arms flight from North Korea
|Crew from the detained cargo plane in the custody of Thai authorities|
Ukraine today said it had launched an investigation into the Ilyushin-76 aircraft, amid speculation that it may have been transporting arms to Iran as part of a North Korean smuggling network used to fund North Korea's banned nuclear weapons programme.
Ukrainian sources indicated the plane had originally set off from Belarus. Belarus's foreign ministry denied the report, but confirmed that one of its citizens – Mikhail Petukov – had been on board, working as a flight engineer.
According to Ukrainian officials, the plane travelled via Ukrainian airspace and refuelled at an airport near Kiev. It set off again on 8 December without a cargo to North Korea. The plane picked up a shipment of portable grenade launchers, an anti-aircraft missile system and other weapons from Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.
Thai officers seized the aircraft on Saturday at Bangkok's Don Muang airport, acting on tip-offs from US and other intelligence agencies that the plane had been carrying North Korean weapons in contravention of a UN security council ban on arms exports.
Today Bangkok's criminal court extended the detention of the plane's five-man crew, four of whom come from Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan tonight denied any knowledge of the illegal arms shipment. It said the plane was registered in Georgia on 7 October and had been leased to a New Zealand company.
The crew has been charged with possession of heavy weapons and misstating the nature of the cargo, officially described as "oil-drilling equipment". Crew members claim they had no idea they were carrying weapons.
"They thought it was a civilian freight flight carrying oil drilling pipes and other equipment for oil drilling," defence lawyer Somsak Saithong said, according to Reuters. Saithong said the crew had delivered such equipment "a few times" in the past, adding that three of the crew were trained pilots. According to military sources, the cargo also included missile tubes, spare parts and other heavy weaponry. Experts are now examining the contents at a secluded military airport.
Today, government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the aircraft was supposed to be flying to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. But he said the authorities were investigating whether the flight plan was misleading, and the final destination was in the Middle East, noting the aircraft had recently stopped in the United Arab Emirates.
"We believe after Colombo there may have been another destination," he said, adding that, according to the crew, the plane had planned to refuel in the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan before flying to its "final destination" in the Ukraine.
"We are taking all of this with a pinch of salt. We will have to verify all the claims, including whether the passports are real," Panitan said, adding police still had little information about who the crew members were, where they have been trained and whether they were linked to a terrorist organisation.
North Korea was hit in June with fresh UN sanctions to punish it for a nuclear test in May. These are aimed at cutting off its arms sales, which earn the isolated and impoverished state more than $1bn a year. The North's biggest arms sales come from ballistic missiles, with Iran and other Middle Eastern states major customers, US government officials suggest.
Belarus strongman 'to increase Internet control'
From: Sydney Morning Herald
The draft "decree on protecting vitally important interests of the individual, society and the state," would set up a presidential "operative and analytical centre" to regulate the Internet, the paper said.
The centre would control registration of addresses in the national domain and restrict information on the Internet, which has become the only forum for opposition debate amid state control of almost all media.
The decree would also force Internet providers to hand over data on their users on requests from police, prosecutors, courts and tax officials.
Under Belarussian law, a presidential decree only requires Lukashenko's signature to come into force.
Previously, Internet providers in Belarus had complained that the state-owned telecoms monopoly cut off access to independent web sites during elections and referendums.
The administrator of the most popular opposition website, Charter97.org, Natalya Radina, told AFP she believed the decree had been drawn up in preparation for the presidential elections, planned for 2011.
"The authorities are afraid of the Internet, because today the Internet is the only source of truthful information about what is happening in the country," Radina said.
The decree would allow officials "to block any sites, to identify and persecute journalists who work with Internet publications," she said. "There will be very many ways to put pressure on the independent Internet sector."
Sweden doesn’t see progress in Belarus
From: Charter '97
As Cecilia Malmström thinks, the EU’s policy towards Belarus should demonstrate strong adherence to respect for human rights in the country.
As Radio Svaboda writes in the article Last Dictatorship of Europe, Cecilia Malmström shares her impressions from an Internet project carried out by Ostgruppen NGO titled “12 Belarusian experts about 12 EU recommendations”.
As Cecilia Malmström writes that after she had listened to famous Belarusians, she felt the events in Belarus were “close to her heart”.
“The people struggling for human rights and democratic freedoms in this country are worthy of respect,” the Swedish Minister for European Union Affairs and future Swedish representative in the European Commission thinks. “The EU provides a clear course on freedom, democracy, and human rights in Belarusian society, but unfortunately, Europe sees neither progress in this direction nor the development that wouldn’t damage human rights in Belarus.”
“The Swedish Government and EU will continue to keep an eye on events in Belarus,” Cecilia Malmström writes in her blog.
Appeals from Tskhinvali and Sukhumi left unattended by “chamber”
From: Charter '97
|A Russian soldier walks past destroyed Georgian tanks in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali during August|
Om December 16 deputies of the “chamber of representatives” received a preliminary agenda of winter plenary session. As Radio Svaboda informs, it is to take place on December 18.
There are 8 questions on the agenda. There is no issue concerning the appeal of “parliaments” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the “national assembly” to recognize independence and state sovereignty of these breakaway territories.
Under the law, the next session of the “chamber of representatives” will start on April 2, 2010.
As charter97.org previously informed, a delegation of the “chamber of representatives” and the “council of republic” visited Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia on November 17-20 and prepared a report which was to influence the issue of recognition of Georgian territories.
At the moment Abkhazia has been recognized by 4 states: Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru. South Ossetia has been recognized by only 3 states: Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that Belarus would recognize independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia last September. Experts viewed that statement as flirting with the European Union in order to receive loans.
Hary Pahaniayla: ‘The state cannot be forced to commit murders itself’
‘The right to life is natural and inalienable. Life is given by God and no one can take it from a human being. Therefore I strongly object to the death penalty as a criminal punishment within the Belarusian legislation. The state cannot be forced to commit murders itself. The state should guarantee human life. No doubt, while defining the boundaries of human behaviour, the state should have instruments of correcting those who commit offences, especially grave ones. Life sentence is absolutely adequate as the exceptional measure of punishment for grave crimes. Besides, it enables the person to realize and correct his or her fault, both in terms of human relationships and in respect to God.’
Amnesty International calls on Lukashenka to stop executions
Andrei Zhuk and Vasily Yuzepchuk are currently awaiting execution in Minsk. Their appeals have been turned down.
Both men have applied for clemency to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka - but Amnesty International knows of only one case in which clemency was granted since President Lukashenka took office in 1994.
Andrei Zhuk was convicted of armed assault and the murder of a man and woman in February 2009. Vasily Yuzepchuk was found guilty in June 2009 of murdering six elderly women in the Grodno region.
The date for their execution will be set by the Director of the Remand Prison in Minsk, where they share a cell. Neither they nor their families will be informed of the date in advance.
Amnesty International understands that when the time comes, they will be taken to a room and told their appeal for clemency has been turned down. They will then be taken to a neighbouring room, forced to their knees and shot in the back of the head.
Andrei Zhuk’s mother, Svetlana Zhuk has written to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asking for clemency on behalf of her son.
In her letter she writes that the death sentence confirmed by the Supreme Court on 27 October was handed down “not just to Andrei, but to all his family".
"Our life has become a nightmare," she writes. "We fall asleep and wake in a cold sweat; we shudder at every phone call and every sound. We are tired of the whispering behind our backs ‘There goes the Mother (father, brother) of a killer’”.
Svetlana Zhuk asked guards at the prison whether she would be able to once more hold her son in her arms, but was told that all their meetings must take place behind a glass screen, through a telephone.
The use of the death penalty in Belarus is compounded by a flawed criminal justice system that applies capital punishment in a manner violating international laws and standards pertaining to the death penalty. There is credible evidence that torture and ill-treatment are used to extract "confessions".
Andrei Zhuk's lawyer says there were procedural violations during his client's initial interrogation. He has also cited the influence of the Belarus media, plus a statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs referring to Andrei Zhuk and his accomplices as "criminals" before they had been convicted, which violates the right to presumption of innocence.
Vasily Yuzepchuk belongs to the marginalized Roma group. He may have an intellectual disability and his lawyer has stated that he is illiterate. Vasily Yuzepchuk has alleged that he was beaten while in pre-trial detention on two separate occasions.
Both men have applied to the UN Human Rights Committee, which called on the Belarusian government not to execute the men until the Committee has considered their cases.
Belarus is the last country in Europe still carrying out death sentences. Amnesty International estimates that as many as 400 people may have been executed since Belarus gained its independence in 1991.
The whole process is shrouded in secrecy; there are no official statistics for the number of executions, the body is not handed over to the family and the place of burial is kept secret.
Customs Union is no obstacle to WTO accession – President aide
|Arkady Dvorkovich, an aide to the Russian president|
"The establishment of a Customs Union by no means interferes with the accession of our three countries to the WTO," Dvorkovich said in an interview with the Vesti news channel on Wednesday.
"There are two options - accession as a Customs Union or separately.
"Getting WTO membership as the Customs Union creates certain organizational difficulties for the WTO, of which our partners have warned us. Therefore, we continue talks and consultations today within the previous format, with one serious exception - we coordinate our negotiations’ positions between the three countries and we say that after accession to the WTO we'll stick to the rules that are effective in the Customs Union. They by no means contradict the WTO norms," the aide said.
"Preliminary consultations show that it is a good solution of procedure problems, so after completing the talks we'll be able to decide whether to join promptly, wait for our partners and join simultaneously, or do it some other way. But I repeat, this decision can only be made upon completion of the substantive talks; and there aren’t' many problems of this kind: we can finish negotiations within the next few months," Dvorkovich said.
When asked about Russia's possible accession to the WTO in 2010,the aide noted that Russia is optimistic from the point of view of completing its WTO talks.
It is premature to speak about the possible technical accession, "the decision is to be made after the completion of the substantive part of the talks," he reiterated.
Pacific island recognizes South Ossetia's independence
From: RIA Novosti
South Ossetia and Nauru, the world's smallest island state, on Wednesday established diplomatic relations. The joint statement was signed by Nauru Foreign Minister Kieren Keke and South Ossetian Ambassador to Russia Dmitry Medoyev, who received special powers from South Ossetia's president, Eduard Kokoity.
Nauru is the fourth country to recognize South Ossetia's independence, joining Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The South Ossetian leader said that the republic's recognition by Nauru was an important step towards South Ossetia becoming a full-fledged member of the international community.
"This politically weighty step by the Nauru leadership again confirms the unconditional right of the South Ossetian people to freedom, equality and to live in safety," Kokoity said.
On Tuesday, Nauru recognized the independence of Abkhazia, another former Georgian republic.
Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in August 2008 after a brief war with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control of its former republic.
Plot thickens over Russian pantyhose probe
From: The Local
Swedish envoy in Russian pantyhose probe (15 Dec 09)
“They’ve presented the story in a way which deliberately sullies the diplomat’s reputation,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle told The Local.
The comments come following a report by Russia’s NTV television which shows the 35-year-old Swedish diplomat unloading cartons of nylon stockings from a car bearing diplomatic plates and standing behind the counter of a kiosk in Moscow where the hosiery was being sold.
The diplomat was subsequently arrested and taken in for questioning by Russian police, who accused the the Swede of selling stockings smuggled into Russia from Belarus.
During the interrogation, the diplomat admitted to involvement in the stocking trade.
Speaking with the TT news agency, a unnamed source from the foreign ministry described the 35-year-old as a capable diplomat.
The source went on to suggest that the Russians had elected to spread the story about the Swedish diplomat’s extracurricular activities in response to an incident last week during which the wife of a Russian diplomat in Stockholm was accused of shoplifting.
But Jörle denied that the foreign ministry was working from the theory that the supposedly biased Russian news reports were part of a diplomatic tit-for-tat.
“I’ve never said that there is a connection between the two incidents,” he said.
“They both happened, but I can’t say whether they’re connected.”
Jörle nevertheless confirmed the foreign ministry’s assertion that the Russian news report failed to provide a complete picture of the incident.
“They don’t give all the details which we have access to surrounding the incident, some of which aren’t very flattering for the Russians,” he said.
However, Jörle refused to elaborate on exactly what about the Swedish diplomat’s purveyance of pantyhose might make Russian officials uncomfortable.
“I’m not going to get into it,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Stockholm, Anatoly Kargapolov, confirmed that police were called to a Stockholm store last week after alarms went off when the wife of a Russian diplomat was leaving the shop.
“It was not a case of shoplifting,” Kargapolov told The Local.
He explained that the woman stayed in the store after the exit alarms sounded, but that store employees couldn’t understand her because she didn’t speak English or Swedish and that she didn’t have any diplomatic identification with her.
“The police were called, but our consular representative eventually showed up and the whole matter was cleared up at the store,” he said.
“It would be a mistake to connect the two incidents,” he added, emphasizing that the Russian embassy would rather move forward than dwell on the alleged misdeeds of the Swedish diplomat.
“We regret that this happened. What’s most important for us is not to have this incident affect our bilateral relations,” he said.
According to Jörle, the Swedish foreign ministry plans to investigate the incident, but added that no further disciplinary action is currently planned for the 35-year-old diplomat.
He also had little to say as to why the diplomat was involved in selling stockings in the first place.
“That’s a good question,” he said.
“All I can say is that, from what we understand, it isn’t something that can earn a person much money.”
Poland: Tenants Burn Law, Declare War
From: Infoshop News
Things are getting hot for bureaucrats, property speculators and thieves as Warsaw tenants take more and more action. Yesterday tenants protested at the parliament, burning the Law on the Protection of Tenants which they claim is meaningless and only protects the interests of property owners. "At least we'll put this meaningless paper to good use - by keeping warm," claimed the tenants as they lit a bonfire. They reminded people that throughout Warsaw, people must resort to burning all sorts of things in their homes to keep warm as many houses still have no heat and as slumlords cut off gas to drive people out of their homes. At a time when many tenants, often elderly, are sitting home freezing, it is much better to take to the streets and protest. Where there is no heat, there will be fire - our fires, the bonfires of resistance.
A growing group of hardcore activists are vowing to get better organized, take more action and to stop the state from their anti-social and thieving activities. Warsaw ZSP is part of the Tenants' Defense Committee which organized the protest yesterday and invited other associations with which it has contact. The Committee has declared war on city bureaucrats who make horrendous policies to enrich speculators and to redistribute property to elites, heirs of former elites, speculators and developers. Their cronies also earn on overpriced public tenders, often related to gentrification, but not the real improvement of public housing standards. The Committee has been exposing corruption, blocking the plans of the local bureaucrats and intervening on behalf of tenants with direct actions. It has publically opened a list of empty flats and buildings, suitable for squatting.
Tenant activity ranges from peaceful protest, to direct action to legal action. Some people are trying to fight bandit reprivatization through the courts. Today was such a case of a tenant from the Citizen24 group who is seeking ways to legal overturn some of the conditions of reprivatization. Reprivatization of public housing has been a tragedy for many hundreds of families in Warsaw, especially for the elderly. Housing that was private before the Second World War is reprivatized. The owners are dead, but the property goes to heirs, to people who claim to be heirs, to people who forged documents, or speculators who have nothing to do at all with the property but bought claims to the property years ago, when it seemed like getting property back would never happen. In the meanwhile, tenants are transferred to a new, private landlord who wants to do nothing but raise the rent - or sell the building, even to be destroyed. The law is constructed in such a way that the state is not required to provide them with alternative public housing. Only if the new landlord decides to evict them and the tenants meet very rigorous criteria can they qualify to get on a waiting list for public housing ---- and these conditions, were an improvement over the old ones, a small improvement won by months of tenants' protests.
Some tenants will fight losing their homes in any way possible. Some refuse to move, blockade themselves in their houses, fight with the landlords, become illegal tenants or squatters. Others are fighting now to overturn illegal privatizations - only again the law does not protect tenants. Illegally privatized housing is often resold and the courts consider that the new owners purchased the property "in good faith". It is increasingly clear to even non-politically minded tenants that the law was made by property holders and speculators, for property holders and speculators, and tenants are only treated as possible sources of income for the parasitic speculators and landlords.
At yesterday's demonstration, dozens of tenants spoke about the awful experiences they had with reprivatization, or with the city trying to get rid of them to gentrify their houses. And as more and more of these stories are repeated in the press, more people are becoming aware of the extent of the problem. At today's court session, the courtroom was overrun by tenants who hope that the Constitutional Tribunal will declare at least some aspects of reprivatization laws to be against the Constitution.
Also today, we can gladly report that the pandemonium caused by tenants protests, and in particular the Committee's analysis and protest of the city budget, means that Warsaw still has no budget approved for 2010. The politicians will try to pass one in an emergency session of the City Council next week. The Committee has vowed to block, through direct action, any attempts to vote on the budget as long as the city does not allocate 100 million zloties for new housing.
Why 100 million zloties? Last year, the City Council voted on drastic rent hikes (200-300%), which came into effect this year. The lying bastards set up a neoliberal brainwashing/PR team to convince the press and public opinion that these increases were necessary and the politicians vowed to use 100% of the money from the rent hikes to fund repairs to devasted public housing. They attempted to accuse us of being "against repairs" and of wanting people to live in slums. The counteroffensive to this propaganda took months and included going in a group of 100 people to the neighbourhood council and taking over the meeting. The Committee pointed out time and time again that money for repairs were already set out in a four-year budget plan adopted a year earlier and that an analysis of previous repairs on public housing showed that a) many repairs were made on gentrifying projects, including on housing that would later be sold or privatized b) the money spent on repairs was often like the amounts the Pentagon spends on toilet seats - overinflated and c) there were many fictious repairs, charged to the city, paid to contractors, but never made. The Committee started to document this and often confronts the authorities with instances of corruption.
Public opinion started to change a little - and then a lot when we got our hands on a draft copy of the budget for 2010. The budget showed that the city not only does not plan to spend the money from increased rents on repairs, but reallocated the money to things like... politicians' salaries. A major scandal broke out.
The Committee demands at the very least that the money be spent on what the bastards promised - or they can overturn the decision to raise the rents. The city tried to respond with PR - but it didn't work. The Vice-President of the City (who is the head of the City Council) has not shown up at the Council since tenants stormed his office a few months ago and officially demanded he be dismissed. A few weeks ago he tried to "make ammends" by announcing that the city would build new housing and held a press conference about it. The press asked the Committee for a response and we asked the politicians to say where they would get the money for this being that they didn't put it in the budget. After some days of embarrassment, the City announced that in fact, yes, there was no money allocated in the budget for the marvelous housing projects that they presented to the press, but maybe the Council of Europe Bank would make the city (another) loan. The Committee had another idea: since the city reallocated 100 million zloties from the funds to repair housing for things like politician's salaries and their mobile phone bills, the Committee proposes that they just tighten their belts, stop chatting and give the money that they wanted to misappropriate to actually build these houses.
The bureaucrats have egg on their faces. Next year is election year and they can't afford such a public relations disaster. In addition, there is an opportunist opposition in the city government trying to gain off this embarrassment. They have also decided to attempt to block the budget and give the ruling party a hard time.
Two weeks ago some tenants interrupted the Council. Others stayed and heckled and vowed to block the budget voting with protests, except the opposition also blocked it from the floor. Next week, before the emergency session, the Committee will try to make a final push on the city to at least build some houses. Even though the neoliberal ideology is deeply ingrained in most of society, there is wide public support for these demands. People have had enough of corruption.
But the movement, although it gained a loud voice in public discussion, is still not supported widely enough. This is a typical problem of the passivity of Polish society. More and more people will need to join, but for some, the lack of early response has already lost them their home. People are being moved into containers, or are forced to crowd into relatives' flats. The city even officially tells people now that if they lose their flats, they can move in with their parents - even if they live in a totally different city. (What better way to gentrify the town?)
The Committee calls on people to take direct action, organize themselves to help each other, block evictions, hold politicians and speculators accountable for their corruption and to put as much pressure on the bastards as possible to force a better social housing policy. In lieu of this, we say, take the law into your own hands, and burn it.
Polish police detain 54 over child pornography
From: E Taiwanne
National police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said the officers seized 56 computers and laptops, video cassettes, DVDs and CDs in private homes and offices during the Tuesday raids. He made the comments on Wednesday.
Polish authorities were tipped off by police in Germany.
If convicted, the suspects could face up to five years in prison for possessing child pornography and eight years for distributing it.
More than 200 people have been detained in Poland this year on suspicion of possessing and spreading child pornography.
Polish police force protesting asylum seekers off train
From: RIA Novosti
The group, which is protesting against poor living conditions and long waiting times for asylum applications in Poland, boarded the train with no tickets, and refused to leave when stopped at the German border.
The train was stopped at the Polish checkpoint in Zgorzelec.
"We used neither direct force nor means available to the police, as there were 60 children among the refugees," border control spokeswoman Anna Galon said.
She said all the refugees would likely be returned to their camps after police reports have been compiled.
The refugees, who also include residents of the troubled south Russian republic of Ingushetia, have demanded they be given official status as soon as possible and be provided with tolerable food.
WANTED: Polish rape suspects hunted by police
From: Mainenhead Adviser
The Metropolitan Police Service is launching Operation Sunfire, an appeal to trace those suspected of offending abroad who are believed to be living in the UK.
Among them are Wojciech Glowacki, 28, and Dariusz Glowacki, 32, who are wanted for suspected rape on January 1, 2002, at Zelechow, Mazowieckie Provence in Poland.
The brothers are alleged to have attacked a girl aged under 18 years by punching and kicking her before repeatedly raping her.
They are also wanted for two other stranger attacks of this type in the same region.
The Glowacki's are linked to the Acton and Slough areas.
Everton v Bate Borisov Preview: Kieran Agard and the Kids On Show Again
With a place in Friday's draw for the last 32 assured, David Moyes will send out his young guns for the final game in Group I
Many Everton fans had never heard of the likes of Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, Kieran Agard, Jose Baxter and James Wallace before the start of the season.
But the youngsters have all been called into action to fill the void of injured senior players during the seven Europa League matches to date.
And with a Premier League game against in-form Birmingham looming, most are likely to be wheeled out again for what is a dead rubber against the Belarus champions.
At a club where Wayne Rooney was allowed to blossom, decent things are expected of Agard, who is expected to fill in for rested in-form striker Louis Saha.
The 20-year-old, who joined from Arsenal midway through the 2005-06 season, has progressed through the ranks to the fringes of the first team.
His main strengths are his pace while his keen eye for goal saw him named the club's reserve player of the year award last season.
"It was great to be named the reserves' player of the year last season and I've had time to go away and reflect with my family on the good bits and bad bits of my progress," said Agard. "I know what I need to do and I'm looking forward to it."
Strategy: Although there is nothing at stake but pride, it is vital Moyess' side return to winning ways ahead of a busy festive period. Despite impressive draws against Chelsea and Tottenham, the Toffees have won just twice in 14 outings. The visit of BATE Borisov offers the team a chance to launch a run of five games in 16 days with a victory.
Some of the club's best performances have come away in Europe, a 1-0 victory in Greece against AEK Athens while an injury-ravaged Everton recorded a 2-1 success over BATE in Belarus at the start of October. But they have struggled in front of their own fans, who have not witnessed a Goodison victory since September 20.
Injury Update: Leon Osman has made a return to training following two months out with a broken foot. However, the midfielder will not be available for the next month or so. "I've still got quite a bit of work to do, but progress has started," said Osman. With nothing at stake and the likes ofJoseph Yobo, James Vaughan, Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe, Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta still sidelined, Moyes is unlikely to risk too many key players.
Since the teams last met in Minsk in October, BATE have booked a place in next season's Champions League qualifying rounds having taken their fourth successive Belarussian title. But this will be their last game in Europe this season after winning just one of their five group games. Their aim is to avoid finishing bottom of Group I. They start the night level on four points with AEK Athens, who are bottom of the four-team group.
No. 7 Azarenka added to the list
From: Post Courier
|Victoria Azarenka of Belarus committed to joining the Family Circle Cup field.|
"At only 20 years old, Victoria Azarenka is one of the most exciting players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour," said Eleanor Adams, Family Circle Cup tournament manager. "She has accomplished so much in her brief career and established herself as a contender in any event she enters."
Originally from Minsk, Belarus, the Scottsdale, Ariz., resident began the 2009 season as the world's No. 15 player and posted very strong results throughout the year.
Azarenka reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, quarterfinals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the third round at the U.S. Open, and she also captured the first three singles titles of her career at Brisbane, Memphis and Miami.
In addition, she qualified for the year-ending championships for the first time in her career. She achieved a career high ranking as World No. 6 on Oct. 26 and notched the highest year-end ranking of her career a week later as World No. 7. She owns a 182-85 singles record and has surpassed $3.5 million in career earnings through the end of the 2009 season.
Azarenka made her Family Circle Cup debut as the tournament's No. 13 seed in 2008, earning a 2-1 record by reaching the third round.
"I had so much fun competing at the Family Circle Cup and I really enjoyed Charleston when I was there two years ago," Azarenka said. "I'm looking forward to beginning my clay court season on Daniel Island this year."
Will anyt bucreacrat be able to close a website?
From: Charter '97
In the text of the new Law on Mass Media, which was put into force since February 8, 2009, includes warning that in some time the state would proceed to control on the web. And now it seems the time of the state control over the Internet has come: on December 14 the text of the draft decree “On measures for revising use of the national segment of the World Wide Web” was revealed.
According to the head of the national program “Electronic Belarus” Mikhail Darashevich, most ides from the decree repeat already existing rules for the Internet. But there are things which hadn’t existed.
“I see as a rather negative thing, which is an international problem by the way, shifting responsibility for users’ actions on providers. It is a “novelty”, as providers didn’t bear such a responsibility previously. Identification of users was previously made by providers, they gave this information for some investigative measures, and it is a normal practice. But their bearing responsibility for users seem not appropriate to me, and contradicts international trends,” Mikhail Darashevich said.
The second negative novelty names by the expert is a possibility to limit access of users to some web resource “at request of citizens”.
“Some users can say that do not like this or that resource, and a provider must block users from reading it,” the expert notes. “I see very many stumbling-blocks here. If state officials find objectionable some website, they would say: “We believe access to this website should be limited,” a provider would have to follow this request.
Under the decree, in three months after its publication the Council of Ministers is to provide regulations for work of the Belarusian segment of the web. In fact it means that websites must be registered as mass media. But it is not clear from the document how this procedure would look like, Darashevich said. Neither it explains what the websites denied registration should do.