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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, December 20, 2009

Informal summit in Kazakhstan, Election amendments, Abkhazia, S Ossetia, Russia, Libya, Europe, Opposition, The curse of Lukashenko and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #472

    Alexander Lukashenko to take part in informal summit in Kazakhstan

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has arrived in Kazakhstan on a working visit, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    Alexander Lukashenko is set to take part in an informal summit.

    The formation of the Single Economic Area of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia is expected to be high on the agenda of the summit.

    Apart from that, the presidents will discuss the CSTO issues, and pressing problems of the EurAsEC development.

    Distinguished Belarusians honored with state awards

    President of Belarus conferred state awards on a number of distinguished people of the country for an exemplary fulfillment of military duty, high professional skills, big achievements in the industry and petrochemistry, health protection and culture on 16 December, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The Order, For Service to the Motherland Third Class, was presented to Colonels Igor Bykov, Igor Nasibyants and Valery Svirid.

    Among the awardees of the medal, For Labor Achievements, were manufacturing engineer of the Tsvetlit Company of the Belarusian Society of Auditory Handicapped Stanislav Abukhovich, Director General of the Mozyr Oil Refinery Anatoly Kupriyanov, Belgorkhimprom Director General Anatoly Smychnik, Belshina workers.

    The order of Frantsysk Skorina was bestowed upon artist of the Grodno Oblast Puppet Show Tamara Korneva, conductor and artists of the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater Vyacheslav Chernukho, Elena Shvedova, Oleg Yeromkin and Irina Yeromkina.

    The honorary title, People’s Artist of Belarus, was given to artist of the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater Sergei Frankovsky, the title, Honorary Industrial Worker of the Republic of Belarus, - to Director of the Tsvetlit Company of the Belarusian Society of Auditory Handicapped Sergei Yefremenko.

    The workers of the interior bodies and servicemen were awarded the medal, For Distinction in Military Service First, Second and Third Classes.

    Presidential scholarships awarded to 91 young scientists

    Presidential scholarships will be given to 91 young talented scientists in 2010. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed the relevant decree on 16 December.

    The awardees include eight Doctors of Sciences under the age of 45, 53 Candidates of Sciences under the age of 35, 30 young scientists with no academic degrees who are under 30.

    Young scientists have done extensive scientific research in the areas most relevant for Belarus. The results of their research have found their way to the real production sector of the national economy.

    The amount of monthly payments will vary from Br945,000 to Br1,540,000.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Amendments to Belarus’ electoral law to enhance transparency of elections

    From: BelTA
    The amendments to the electoral law will help enhance the transparency and competitiveness of the elections, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Lidia Yermoshina told reporters in the Council of the Republic, BelTA has learnt.

    In her words, the amendments the senators will vote on today are aimed to improve the electoral law of Belarus. She described the proposed amendments as progressive, transparent and competitive. When asked by the reporters about the reaction of the international community to the introduction of the amendments, the CEC Chairperson said that the reaction is still unknown and the draft amendments were not coordinated with international structures. At the same time, Lidia Yermoshina underlined that the amendments were based on the joint decisions of European and Belarusian experts.

    The CEC Chairperson did not rule out a possibility of introducing further amendments to the electoral law of Belarus. “The society and the political environment will change; this is why it is impossible to talk about the final version of the electoral law. The forthcoming elections to the local councils of deputies and presidential elections will be held in line with the amended legislation. After that we will see how these regulations work and whether we need to change something,” Lidia Yermoshina said.

    Chairman of the Permanent Commission for Legislation and State Construction of the Council of the Republic Yevgeni Smirnov thinks that senators will adopt the amendments to the electoral law. In his view, the key amendments include the change in the rules for establishing election commissions, simpler registration of candidates, removal of the minimum voter turn-out requirement at the elections to the local councils of deputies and permission to set up personal funds of candidates.

    Belarus parliament may recognize Abkhazia, S Ossetia in spring

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian parliamentarians may recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the spring session, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives Sergei Maskevich told media.

    The MP stressed that Belarusian parliamentarians had gone a long way studying the situation in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A detailed report compiled by members of the lower and upper chambers has been brought into the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic, with a copy forwarded to Belarus’ leadership. According to Sergei Maskevich, it would be incorrect to discuss the parliamentary report in public and reveal details about the situation in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    Asked about Russia’s pressuring Belarusian MPs for the sake of making them recognize the Caucasian republics sooner, Sergei Maskevich said there is no pressure. He added that are a lot of examples of one state recognizing the independence of some nation, in particular, Turkey’s recognition of Northern Cyprus.

    Sergei Maskevich advised reporters to also poll the Belarusian nation about whether the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be recognized.

    Historical buildings may be sold into private ownership in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Sport and Tourism are working on the amendments to the legislation which would allow privatizing historical buildings in Belarus, Culture Minister of Belarus Pavel Latushko told reporters in Minsk on 17 December following the talks with Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland Bogdan Zdrojewski, BelTA has learnt.

    The historical buildings and manors, which once belonged to rich Belarusian families, are now the property of the state. Other options are not negotiable, Pavel Latushko noted answering the question about the return of the historical sites to their former owners or their ancestors. “The Culture Ministry and the Ministry of Sport and Tourism are working together on the changes to the legislation due to which the historical buildings may be given into private ownership on condition of their obligatory restoration. The state will have no funds to restore all the historical buildings. We will offer the Belarusians and foreigners including the former owners to buy them out and then to restore under state supervision,” the Culture Minister said.

    In turn, Bogdan Zdrojewski noted that the Polish school of restorers is well-known all over the world. Polish specialists may provide both the advice and practical assistance with the restoration of the historical facilities. According to him, in 2010 the Polish Government intends to assign some funds for the restoration of the specimens of architecture outside Poland.

    Belarus MPs call new European Parliament resolution discriminatory

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian parliamentarians think that the new resolution of the European Parliament on Belarus adopted on 17 December is discriminatory. According to the resolution, Belarus will be invited to participate fully and on an equal basis in the EURONEST assembly as soon as free and fair elections to the Belarusian parliament take place, Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus, told reporters on 18 December, BelTA has learnt.

    “We are deeply concerned about this decision; it is discriminatory towards the Belarusian parliament. We expected a different resolution to be adopted,” the deputy said.

    He informed that a working group will be set up to put forward proposals on the equal participation of the Belarusian parliament in the EURONEST. The group will consist of the representatives of the parliaments of six Eastern Partnership participating states and five EU states, Sergei Maskevich said.

    The deputy is convinced that this resolution is detrimental to the Eastern Partnership project and Belarus-EU relations in general.

    Igor Petrishenko: Belarus will not reduce visa costs for EU citizens unilateral

    Belarus will not reduce the cost of Belarusian visas for the EU citizens unilaterally, First Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Igor Petrishenko said as he answered the questions of Belarusian parliamentarians on 17 December, BelTA has learnt.

    “Beginning the spring 2009 we (the Foreign Ministry) have been actively involved in the Eastern Partnership project which is aimed, among other things, to simplify visa procedures. This process should be bilateral. It means that we cannot reduce the cost of Belarusian visas for the EU citizens unilaterally. We want our citizens to be able to travel freely to European countries paying as little as possible for the visa,” Igor Petrishenko said.

    Belarus has some positive cooperation experience in this area with the neighboring countries which are the EU members. As for the proposal of the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of Belarus to reduce the cost of tourist visas for the EU citizens unilaterally, Igor Petrishenko informed that the government analyzed this proposal and came to the conclusion that Belarus will not benefit from it economically. “We will work hard on this issue and I think we will be able to find a solution regarding the cost of visas and the inflow of tourists to Belarus,” the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus said.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Altai Krai to host festival of Belarusian culture

    From: BelTA
    The National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre
    The festival of Belarusian culture will be held in the Altai Krai of the Russian Federation. The festival will be timed to the 10th anniversary of the Union State Treaty, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Embassy in Russia.

    The programme of the festival includes concerts of Altai folk groups of the Belarusian song “Chapurushka” and “Krynichka”, an exhibition of decorative and applied arts. Guests of the festival will be able to get familiar with periodical publication “Learn about Belarus”. They will also visit the festival of the Belarusian cuisine.

    During the festival, Deputy Governor of the Altai Krai Boris Larin and the Head of the Novosibirsk Office of the Belarusian Embassy in Russia will present veterans of the Great Patriotic War with medals “65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders”.

    The festival will be organized by the Altai Krai Administration and regional public organization “Belarusian Community in Altai”.

  • Economics...

    Government of Belarus reverses situation regarding key economic issues, Kobyakov says

    From: BelTA
    The government of Belarus has managed to reverse the situation regarding the fundamental issues in the economy, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov told the joint session of the National Assembly of Belarus.

    According to him, Belarus was less exposed to the global financial and economic crisis than other countries. Right till the end of Q3 2009 Belarus was one of the few countries displaying economic growth. Yet the GDP dynamics has slowed down in recent months. At the same time the results of the social and economic development of Belarus in January-November show that “the government has managed to reverse the situation regarding several fundamental issues and to ensure gradual movement towards the growth zone.”

    Ensuring the growth of production and sales is the main task of the government, Andrei Kobyakov said.

    In January-November this year, the GDP index made up 99.6%, up 0.6% from January-October. The volume of industrial production was up 0.8% to 96.3%. “It is very important that we have ensured the growth while reducing the warehouse extra stocks. They were down by Br45 billion in November,” Andrei Kobyakov added.

    Council of Republic passes budget bill 2010

    The Council of the Republic have passed the draft law on the national budget 2010, BelTA has learnt.

    The budget for 2010 was calculated on the basis of the GDP real growth projections of 11%-13% and the annual inflation rate of 9%, according to Finance Minister of Belarus Andrei Kharkovets who submitted the bill to the Council of the Republic. In 2010 the revenues of Belarus’ consolidated budget are expected to total Br53 trillion, or 30.4% of GDP. The main sources of tax revenues of the consolidated budget are the value added tax, incomes from the foreign economic activities, income and profit taxes that are paid by the organizations, income and excise taxes.

    In 2010 the expenses of the consolidated budget are projected to equal Br55.7 trillion, or 31.9% of GDP.

    In 2010 revenues of the state budget are expected to make up Br35.6 trillion (up 20.7% from 2009), expenses — Br38.2 trillion (up 23.5% from 2009).

    In order to improve the fiscal system of Belarus in 2010 the government plans to abolish the duty to the national fund to support agricultural producers, food and agrarian science, a tax on purchasing a vehicle, local taxes on retail sales and parking.

    To compensate for the drop in budget revenues, the VAT will be raised from 18% to 20%, which will generate Br1.7 trillion of additional revenues.

    The 2010 budget is socially-oriented. A total of Br41 trillion will be allocated for these purposes. One of the main goals of the expenditure policy is to preserve the current level of social services, strengthen existing social guarantees and support of the real production sector and implement housing construction programmes. Thus, over Br3 trillion is set aside for housing construction (to subsidize the interest rate, finance construction of infrastructure facilities, give subsidies to large families and also one-time subsidies). The real production sector will be granted the government assistance worth Br830 billion.

    By the end of 2010, the average wages of a public sector worker should make up $420, Andrei Kharkovets said.

    Spending on healthcare, education culture, sport and social policy will increase. In 2010 expenditures on education will amount to Br7.6 trillion (up 7%), healthcare Br5.6 trillion (up 7%). Expenses on wages of public sector workers and scholarships will increase by 8-9%.

    Belarus’ budget deficit for 2010 will make up Br2.7 trillion, or 1.5% to GDP. The deficit is expected to be financed through internal and external sources.

    The draft budget takes into account all the potential risks, which can create obstacles to the budget implementation, first of all in terms of revenues. During the formation of the budget expenditures for 2010, the government applied such approaches that will allow increasing these expenditures if the budget revenues increase. This makes the budget well-balanced and resistant to external risks. It can be promptly adjusted to the economic changes in Belarus.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to establish common economic space before 2012

    From: Xinua and
    AK BULAK HOTEL, near Almaty
    The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan announced Saturday that a common economic space would be established among the three countries before 2012 to further enhance cooperation .

    "We will further deepen the process of integration under the framework of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC). A common economic space will be established before Jan. 1, 2012," said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in a joint statement at an informal meeting of leaders from ex-Soviet nations held here.

    The informal meeting of the leaders of CIS member states took place in the Almaty area on Saturday at the sports complex Akbulak, Kazakhstan Today agency reports.

    The Presidents of Kazakhstan - Nursultan Nazarbayev, Armenia - Serzh Sarkisyan, Belarus - Alexander Lukashenko, Kyrgyzstan - Kurmanbek Bakiev, Russia - Dmitry Medvedev, Tajikistan - Emomali Rahmon and Turkmenistan - Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, took part in the meeting.

    On Nov. 27, the three leaders signed a package of documents setting up a single customs union effective from Jan. 1, 2010 in a bid to seek joint accession to the World Trade Organization.

    "Carrying out of informal meetings of the leaders of CIS states has become traditional. Thus, the head of the state expressed confidence that there is a need to continue holding such meetings. He reminded that in Sochi the leaders of CIS states decided to create EurAsEC and at an informal meeting in Borovoi last year we decided to create the Customs Union.

    N. Nazarbayev reminded that Kazakhstan starts its presidency in OSCE on January 1, 2010. He suggested discussing at today's meeting "the questions of presidency of Kazakhstan, regional security and the questions connected with activity of the integration organization".

    The customs union would promote the trade among the three nations, improve the competitiveness of products and win investing opportunities. It would promote and deepen the cooperation among members of the EurAsEC and enhance the mutually beneficial and cooperative relations among ex-Soviet countries, the statement said.

    Libya, Belarus Sign Military Cooperation Protocol

    From: Tripoli Post
    General Yuri Zhadobin of Belarus
    Libya and Belarus signed on Wednesday in Tripoli a protocol of cooperation in defense matters as part of the efforts of the two countries to strengthen bilateral relations.

    Lieutenant General Aboubaker Yunis Jaber, Secretary of the General Interim Defense Committee, signed the protocol on the Libyan side and Minister of Defence Lieutenant General Yuri Zhadobin of Belarus.

    The agreement came after two days of talks last week during which meetings were held to discuss cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

    General Jaber said the visit by the Belarusian delegation reflected a desire by the two countries to push relations between the two countries towards further progress.

    On his part, General Zhadobin said his country was keen to advance relations with Libya in all areas, expressing his appreciation for the warm welcome he and the accompanying delegation were met with in Libya.

    Belarus crude steel in 11 months down by 7pct YoY

    From: Steel Guru
    According to the data released by Belarus National Statistical Committee, in January to November 2009 the country crude steel production down by 7.5 % YoY to 2.245 million tonnes and finished steel product output down by 2.7% YoY to 2.128 million metric tonnes.

    Meanwhile, during the period in question, Belarus output of such products as steel pipe, wire rod and steel cord registered decreases of 26.9% YoY to 100,400 tonnes, 46.5% YoY to 43,900 tonnes and 28.3%YoY to 64,100 tonnes.

    As of December 1st 2009, Belarus steelmakers had accumulated 5,600 tonnes of steel pipes in their warehouses, which is 84.4% of their average monthly pipe production volume. Compared to December 1st, 2008, the producers steel pipe reserves increased by 0.7%. The total value of steel products accumulated in the warehouses of local steelmakers as of December 1st 2009 amounted to BYR 82 billion.

    IMF grants Belarus $688 mln in fourth loan tranche

    From: Foxyard
    The International Monetary Fund has granted $688 million to Belarus -- the fourth tranche of a stabilisation loan -- and said the ex-Soviet economy is starting to emerge from the crisis, though policy must remain prudent.

    Belarus has been beaten badly by deteriorating demand for goods in Russia and Europe, its chief export markets.

    The latest allocation takes the sum given to Belarus by the IMF to $2.88 billion, out of the $3.63 billion earmarked in total, the fund said in a statement late on Friday.

    The IMF expects the Belarussian economy to grow 1.8 percent next year after a 1.2 percent contraction in 2009.

    "The economy is beginning to emerge from the crisis. Export volumes have stabilized, the exchange rate depreciation has improved competitiveness, and confidence appears to be growing among households," IMF Deputy Managing Director Takatoshi Kato said in the statement.

    "At the same time, Belarus remains vulnerable to external shocks, requiring continued prudent macroeconomic policies as well as flexibility in the face of uncertainties."

  • From the Opposition...

    The Curse of Lukashenko

    From: Charter '97
    Berlusconi a few days after the meeting with the last dictator of Europe
    As soon as Berlusconi managed to grow new teeth instead of knocked out ones, a new ill-minded person with an ice hockey stick tried to steal into his hospital ward, a well-known journalist Iryna Khalip writes.

    Do not think that I am gloating: men with ice hockey sticks are as disgusting for me as Berlusconi himself. I am speaking about different things. There was man named Silvio, and nobody attacked him, neither with fists, nor with stick, until he went hugging Lukashenka. And right on his return to Italy not just a run of bad luck, but a season of adversities which are dangerous for life and health. And if the price for meeting with Lukashenka is broken teeth and fractured nose and a maniac with an ice hockey stick, all the other potential friends of the dictator should think twice before opening out their embrace: what will follow after that? Moreover, Berlusconi is not the first victim of friendship with Lukashenka.

    For instance, there was Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis. Nobody remembers him now. On February 18-19, 2009 he visited Minsk and met with Lukashenka. On the next day after he returned to Riga, Godmanis retired. It’s true, he was not beaten by anyone. But he hadn’t been speaking about endless friendship, they signed a joint memorandum about intentions in the sphere of energetic, nothing more. So he got off with nothing more than a fright. And in the case of Berlusconi, it is not the end of troubles, it seems to be just a beginning. And not only in the area of his face.

    And dearest Pavel Borodin, before he became the head of the union state enterprise, acquired an office in Minsk and started regular meetings with Lukashenka, had no problems. He liked to tell abut his labour deeds at the position of the Charge-d’Affairs of the Kremlin, as if huge rats were running around before he took the position, officials and Yelstin were walking around waist-deep in the water, and by a hocus-pocus he turned the Kremlin into a thing as neat as a new pin. He was so proud by the repaired Kremlin, as if it was his own summer cottage. But as soon as he left the cottage, he settled down in Minsk and mad friends with Lukashenka, a US arrest warrant was brought right to the ramp of the plane in which he landed in New York in 2001. In April Pavel Borodin was released from prison. But since then he can travel only along the route Minsk-Moscow without turning anywhere else. The whole Western world is closed for him. That’s why Borodin is chirping that the European Union would join the union state soon. He is simply dreaming of Paris.

    One can also recall one more dearly loved guest, US Congressman Curt Weldon, who dared to meet with Lukashenka in 2002, in the same period of time when none of Western officials would take the same side of the street with Lukashenka. Weldon arrived, had long conversations, and the state-run Belarusian TV BT then told that isolation of Belarus had finished, a breakthrough in the Western front started, and Alyaksandr Lukashenka would soon be invited to the White House for a cup of tea.

    A breakthrough really started, but in an unexpected place. After the visit to Minsk the FBI got interested in his activities, and it turned out that the Congressman was bribed for lobbying interests of companies and private individuals, including friends and partners of Slobodan Milosevic, Dragomir and Bogoljub Karic. Weldon’s business partner Cecilia Grimes already faced trial for suppression of evidence against the Congressman and found guilty. Investigation against Weldon continues, but his political career ended ingloriously. Even if he is not imprisoned, he won’t be able to lobby anybody’s interests any more.

    By the way, about Milosevic. Lukashenka wanted to hide “Friend Slobo” in Belarus, for no tribunals to find him. But in 2001 he by chance appeared in the prison in The Hague instead of the residence in Drazdy, and he died there without leaving his friend Alyaksandr any hope for happy future and peaceful death in his own bed. Another good friend of Drazdy dweller, Saddam Hussein, was executed. And his sons who met with Lukashenka, were murdered even earlier. After arrest several Belarusian passports for different names were found in the things of Saddam’s personal secretary, which was the last nail battered down in his coffin. He died in prison in January 2004 before the trial started.

    It would be a different matter if only dictators, corruptionists, international criminals and rascals were meant: first he meets with Lukashenka, and then goes to prison (dies, is dismissed, not reelected, becomes a suspect in an investigation – please underline as appropriate). But the same things happen to innocent sheep from show-business and sport, when they want to make friends with Lukashenka. For example, a hockey player Pavel Bure visited Minsk before the election in 2001. He was so thankful for hospitality, that he licked boots of the receiving side: “It is certainly pleasant that not a rickety old man leads the country, but a powerful man who is able not to get tired. One can feel on firm ground behind such wide shoulders”.

    Wide shoulders haven’t helped: in half a year Pavel Bure broke his hand, and after that his sports career ended in silence. Later another lady from Russian beau-monde, ballet dancer Anastasiya Volochkova, who intruded to Lukashenka’s friends, broke her arm as well, by the way. In 2003 she visited Minks as the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi theatre. She danced at the largest stage of the largest hall, met with Lukashenka, and then shared her impressions with journalists: “The Belarusian leader is a very talented organizer, who is able to rally people around himself and carry out a humane policy at the highest level! If there would be proposals to dance in concerts in his support, I would eagerly accept them”. Three were no offers, but soon after her return from Minsk Volochkova got the bounce and with scandal left the Bolshoi and now works in Krasnodar. And besides, she takes part in the TV program “Ice age” where she traditionally gets lowest marks. And as before, she naively accuses Xenia Sobchak of being the reason of all her troubles.

    One would think, what Lukashenka has to do with all that? The matter is, according to old wives stories, it is an omen of misfortune to meet a woman with empty buckets. Lukashenka is a kind of a person with empty buckets. But he is not appearing in the streets unexpectedly. He jumps out in front of a visitor in a narrow corridor in order to give him no chances to escape. So the only chance to avoid trouble is simply not to go to those corridors and not come near the places where Lukashenka may appear. And those who meet with him, and not because they are obliged to, but out of their own free will, have only themselves to blame. And those who doubt these superstitious beliefs only because Putin and Medvedev talk to Lukashenka often, and are not prone to this pest, I can explain: they belong to the same company of “circulators of infection”. And their buckets are empty as well.

    European Parliament notes lack of democratic progress in Belarus

    From: Viasna
    The European Parliament on Thursday voted to adopt a resolution on the situation in Belarus, which notes that the country's authorities have failed to make significant progress in the sphere of human rights and freedoms "after initial positive steps."

    The document offers support for the EU Council's decision to extend the bloc's travel sanctions against a group of Belarus' top government officials until October 2010 and at the same time prolong their suspension for the same period. According to the resolution's authors, the European Union's dialogue with Minsk "must lead to concrete results and substantial progress in the fields of democratic reforms and the respect for human rights and the rule of law."

    The resolution invites the EU to lift the sanctions permanently and speed up "the process of Belarus' integration into the European family of democratic nations" if the Belarusian authorities make enough progress on democracy next year.

    The document urges the EU Council and the European Commission to consider reducing the cost of Schengen visas and easing visa procedures for Belarusian citizens, as well as prepare recommendations for talks on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with the Belarusian government.

    The resolution calls for efforts to "revitalize the suspended ratification process of Belarus - EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement."

    The authors suggest that the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development consider increasing financial assistance for Belarus, in particular for programs supporting small and medium-sized businesses.

    The document welcomes "the constructive and active participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership" and urges the Belarusian government to continue cooperation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on election reforms and develop its dialogue with the opposition.

    In addition, the resolution calls on the Belarusian authorities to bring the country's Media Law into line with international experts' recommendations, abolish the Criminal Code's Article 193 that criminalizes acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, stop the practice of denying registration to political parties and non-governmental organizations, and create favorable conditions for the operation of NGOs and private media outlets.

    The document urges the Belarusian authorities to review sentences imposed on more than a dozen activists over participation in demonstrations in January 2008 and immediately release entrepreneur Mikalay Awtukhovich and his associate Uladzimir Asipenka held in a pretrial detention center.

    The resolution also calls for an immediate moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus.
    A last-minute addition to the resolution urged the Belarusian authorities to investigate a recent spate of mock kidnappings of opposition youths and the brutal murder of Maryina Horka opposition activist Valyantsin Downar.

  • Russia...

    Medvedev laments 'modest results' of UN climate conference

    From: RIA Novosti
    The UN climate conference in Copenhagen has produced little tangible results, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday.

    Speaking at an informal meeting with his counterparts from post-Soviet states, he said: "There are results, but they are rather modest."

    "A last-minute statement was adopted, reflecting the views of different countries on how to work further to improve the environmental situation on the planet and prevent adverse impacts on the climate."

    The leaders of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan met in a place near Almaty to discuss security and economic integration.

    The climate summit in Copenhagen adopted a final document. Russian delegation member Oleg Shamanov noted difficulties in agreeing the text during plenary sessions on Friday, saying that a number of countries had accused the group drawing up the document as doing so "secretly" without their participation. He said group was created openly and that all members at the summit could participate.

    Alexei Kokorin, a representative from the World Wildlife Fund of Russia, said four countries in particular were obstructing the acceptance of the document: Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. He said the countries were accusing other countries of not considering their opinions while preparing the political declaration.

    According to Kokorin, the obstruction by the four countries was not entirely related to the conference's issues on climate and ecology, but more of a desire "to annoy the U.S.," in particular U.S. President Barack Obama, who was an active participant in creating the political declaration for the summit.

    The 15th UN climate change conference December 7-18 was the result of two years of international talks on a binding treaty to cut global carbon emissions. The talks brought together about 15,000 participants from 192 countries.

    Scientists have warned that the emissions cuts so far offered at the summit would fail to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperatures.

    The Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding agreement restricting carbon emissions, expires in 2012. A new deal is needed to continue efforts beyond 2012.

    The United States did not sign the original Kyoto Protocol.

    Drunkenness a ‘More Terrible’ Threat to Russia than Terrorism, Moscow Psychiatrist Says

    From: Georgian Daily
    Excessive consumption of alcohol over the New Year’s holiday will cost the life of 300,000 Russians, according to a Moscow psychiatrist, making the alcohol consumption threats to Russia’s demographic future than terrorist attacks and fires, even though those continue to garner far more media attention.

    At a press conference this week, Aleksandr Nemtsov, a professor at the Scientific Research Institute of Psychiatry of the Russian Ministry of Health, said that “the new year alcohol marathon will take the lives of 300,000 Russians,” some directly and others through accidents, murders and psychoses.

    Because alcohol-related deaths have become so common, he continued, “the victims of alcoholism elicit much less information resonance than do terrorist acts and fires,” even though, for example, deaths from alcoholic binges kill “many more young people than at the ‘Lame Horse’ nightclub,” which held the attention of all Russians.

    Another specialist on alcohol consumption in Russia, M. Voskresensky of the ‘Spas’ Rehabilitation Center, noted that when Russians were growing up a generation ago, Soviet officials “in order to indicate the horror of war” told them that “every fourth person in Belarus died” as a result of World War II.

    “This was the most terrible figure for wars of recent centuries,” he continued. “Not one people in the world bore such losses. But over the last 15 years, the population of a city like Petushki in Vladimir Oblast declined from 24,000 to 18,000 – that is, every fourth person disappeared.”

    Now, Voskresensky said, reports that “in the course of recent New Year’s celebrations in that district from excessive drinking have died 150 people.”And in Moscow, alcohol abuse over the New Year’s holidays kills about 2,000 people – “a figure comparable to losses [from that city] in the entire Chechen war.”

    For two decades, these experts say, Russia has experienced “alcohol supermortality,” a reflection of market forces and tax policies reflecting a powerful alcohol lobby that have made high-alcohol drinks like vodka more attractive relative to lower-alcohol ones, a willingness to use even cheaper surrogates when incomes are low, and a uniquely Russian history.

    Voskresensky goes so far as to suggest that “in essence,” Russians have adopted alcohol as a religion, a kind of “cult of Bacchus, which in fact has replaced Orthodoxy. Earlier, when wishing people well, they prayed for them, but now they drink for them, that is, they commit one of the mortal sins.”

    Indeed, he points out, when “people die from vodka, on their last journey,” those accompanying them to the cemetery drink on their behalf. Among Russian men today, he argues, “the criteria of male friendship is [now measured by] the quantity of alcohol those involved have drunk together.”

    Russia’s alcohol “marathon” starts on December 25th with Western Christmas and continues well into January until Eastern New Year. But it is not just the length of the holiday that makes it so deadly, Moscow experts say. Instead, it is the specifically Russian history of that event.

    In Russia, the celebration of the New Year on January 1 “does not have too long a history.” For most of the last millennium, Russians have celebrated the Orthodox Church’s New Year on March 1. But “by an irony of fate,” Peter the Great “became the founding father of Russian drunkenness” by his insistence on the celebration of the Western New Year.

    In Europe itself, Christmas not the New Year was the chief holiday, and the latter was seldom celebrated as intensively as in Russia. Then, when the Bolsheviks reformed the calendar in 1918, the situation became even worse, not only because two calendars were involved but also because the Soviet rulers wanted to promote the New Year holiday in place of Christmas.

    Given that the number of alcohol-related deaths in Russia will continue unless something is done, Moscow announced today that it will seek to reduce alcohol consumption by adult males there from its current level of 18 liters a year – more than twice the level of the next heaviest drinking country -- to 5-6 liters by 2020.

    But its first effort in that direction – raising the minimum price of a half liter of vodka to 89 rubles (3.30 US dollars) as of New Year’s Day – may have just the opposite effect, leading more Russians to turn to “samogon,” as moonshine is known, or to other cheaper surrogates, something that could make the holiday this time around even more deadly than in the past.

    Russian soldiers head to South Ossetia to protect republic’s border

    From: RT
    Many South Ossetian refugees have returned to their homes since Russia started to protect the republic’s borders. Russian soldiers headed to the frontier under a deal agreed in April. Residents already feel more secure.

    40-year-old Nodar Tasoev is a South Ossetian resident. He left his village when it was under Georgian rule.

    “They were always mocking me because I'm Ossetian. It became impossible to live here and I left,” Nodar says.

    He returned around 7 months ago, when Russian border guards were posted along the frontier and now the village feels secure again.

    The guards arrived under a deal agreed between Russia and South Ossetia. It was signed after Georgia’s attempt to seize South Ossetia was repelled by Russian troops. Moscow later recognized the republic’s independence and vowed to protect it.

    Signs of Georgia's aggression are literally on every stretch of the South Ossetian border. The first civilian victims in August 2008 were in a village right on the border. Today on the outskirts there is a Russian border post. Twenty more military posts like this one will soon appear along with it.

    At the moment, the guards have to live in tents, 500 meters from a construction site. A hundred builders brought in from Chechnya are also there, and this kind of project is not new to them.

    ”We've built such outposts in Chechnya – we know how to do it. This project is just a little bit different – more complicated. We are planning to finish it by the end of 2010 and it's 100% real,” says builder Ali Ustarkhanov.

    The frontline gardens are perfect shelter for smugglers trying to cross from Georgia into South Ossetia. Since April, when they were first deployed, a number have already been detained trying to enter illegally.

    “This area is difficult to cross, especially in bad weather, and there is a large network of detour roads which ease illegal actions,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Pavel Bazhok, serving as a border guard.

    Bricks and mortar will soon take the place of the tents. Meanwhile yet another group of soldiers is on its way, ready to protect the South Ossetian border.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland tightens border in hunt for Auschwitz sign

    From: AP
    This two photo combination shows above: a Polish Police handout showing the entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau, without the Nazi infamous iron sign inscription declaring "Arbeit Macht Frei", German translated to "Work Sets You Free", which was stolen from the entrance of the former Auschwitz death camp, Polish police said, in Oswiecim, southern Poland, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. The photo below shows an exact replica of the sign, produced when the original received restoration work years ago, which was quickly hung in its place, Friday Dec. 18, 2009.
    The Polish government says it has tightened security as the search intensifies for the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign that was stolen from the Auschwitz memorial site.

    Interior Ministry spokeswoman Wioletta Paprocka said Saturday that border guards at Poland's eastern border with Ukraine and Belarus — which is also the European Union's eastern frontier — stepped up checks of goods out of Poland looking for the sign, which means "Work Makes You Free."

    Checks have also been tightened at airports.

    Interior Minister Jerzy Miller ordered police to increase vigilance and question all possible witnesses and suspects in a nationwide effort to find the sign that stands as one of Nazi Germany's most chilling symbols.

    Thieves stole the sign before dawn Friday.

    Senator Piesiewicz in Blackmail Scandal

    From: Krakow Post
    Polish screenwriter turned politician filmed with drugs and prostitutes
    Until this week, Krzysztof Piesiewicz was best known for his work with famed Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. A lawyer and screenwriter, Piesiewicz had worked on some of Kieslowski's most notable films, including The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colours trilogy, as well as The Decalogue, a 10-part series on the 10 commandments that Piesiewicz set into motion. Most notably during his law career, Piesiewicz assisted in the successful prosecution of the murderers of anti-communist priest Jerzy Popieluszko. After 1989, Piesiewicz went on to serve several terms in the Polish Senate. In 2007, he was elected to the senate for the fifth time, as a member of the Citizen's Platform (PO) party.

    However, after this week it seems that not only is the senator's political career over, but he will likely be remembered for his deeds in this century rather than the previous one. This week, the Polish tabloid Super Express published a video on their website showing the 64-year-old politician in drag, allegedly snorting cocaine with prostitutes.

    The video shows Piesiewicz appearing to inhale a white powder, while being surrounded by women later identified as prostitutes. Afterwards, he is shown lying in bed unconscious in a women's dress, with one of the women applying make-up to his face.

    The senator claims that he was blackmailed by the prostitutes who appear in the video. He says the white powder is medicine, and not cocaine. Meanwhile, the women claim that the video was an act of revenge on Piesiewicz, as he had promised to find jobs for them. They were allegedly blackmailing him for half a million zloty in order to keep the tape out of the public's eye.

    According to Piesiewicz, he had met twice with the women and paid them an undisclosed amount. When they asked for more money, he went to the Prosecutor’s Office. The police have stated that he was a victim of an illegal group that extorts large sums of money from celebrities through blackmail. The women involved have also been arrested.

    However, the senator has asked that his immunity from prosecution be removed. If convicted on drug possession charges, Piesiewicz could serve up to eight years in prison.

    Probation thug jailed after impaling Polish cleaner on mop handle

    From: Scottsman and STV
    A THUG who battered a Polish cleaner and assaulted him with a 3ft mop handle has been jailed for more than nine years.
    Keith Porter, who was on probation at the time of the attack, laughed as he was led in handcuffs from the dock at the High Court in Glasgow.

    The court was told Porter pounced on Jaroslaw Janeczek, 39, as he sat in his car outside his Aberdeen home in July. Mr Janeczek required eight hours of surgery to remove the stick, which was fully inside his body.

    A judge yesterday told Porter, 21, he had rarely heard of such "brutal violence" during his 25 years in the courts. Lord Turnbull sentenced him to nine years and four months after he pled guilty to a charge of attempted murder.

    He ordered that Porter be supervised for a further five years and eight months on his release.

    Co-accused George Stewart, 24, was jailed for three years and three months after he admitted assaulting Mr Janeczek to his severe injury during the same incident.

    Mr Janeczek was set upon after being dropped off at his flat, in the early hours of 11 July. As he went into his car to get his house keys, Porter approached and started punching him. Porter claimed Mr Janeczek had earlier kicked his dog, and Stewart then joined in on the assault.

    Stewart struck Mr Janeczek with a car door and landed several blows and kicks to his body. Jonathan Brodie, QC, prosecuting, said that shocked witnesses thought Mr Janeczek was going to be killed. Porter grabbed items including a mop and brushes from the boot of the cleaner's vehicle, the court was told.

    Mr Janeczek was initially "whipped and stabbed" with the implements, before Porter carried out the assault with the mop handle. The thugs then fled, leaving Mr Janeczek for dead.

    He required major surgery after doctors found the mop had penetrated his stomach and liver, narrowly missing his heart.

    His chest had to be cut open and the wood had to be sawn for it to be removed. Mr Brodie told the court: "It was concluded that, without surgical intervention, he would have died."

    The prosecutor told the court the wood must have been "kicked or stamped" into Mr Janeczek.

    The court heard that the victim was left badly scarred and required further surgery, but fortunately he had made a "remarkable recovery".

    Speaking exclusively to STV News on Thursday through an interpreter, Mr Janeczek says he remembers little of the ordeal.

    He said: “There's a big black hole in my memory. I saw the faces on TV - I don't think I’ve ever seen them before.

    “I'm sure they knew I was Polish. It would be easy to recognise after they exchanged a few words with me, but I don't know, that could be the reason they attacked me but there could be a number of reasons.

    “It’s difficult for any reaction when you're taking painkillers and medicines, the biggest question for me was, will I be able to live normally? Will I be able to function normally and live a normal life?

    “I'm sure it will affect the comfort of my life, as I get older, after so many operations, I will be in pain all the time.”

    It emerged that Porter was sentenced to probation two days before this attack for a separate assault.

    Lord Turnbull told Porter that he had to be locked up for the foreseeable future to stop him harming others. He said: "Shocking acts of violence are regularly described in these courts. However, in more than 25 years' experience, I have rarely heard of an assault so brutal in its description.

    "Very few people would contemplate that someone aged 21 could be capable of inflicting such violence."

    The judge added: "The picture that emerges of you is thoroughly an alarming one. You have been receiving detention since the age of 16.

    "You complained to the social workers that the courts have never given you a chance – but that is simply not true."

    Lord Turnbull told Stewart that, while his role in the attack was less, he had still acted in a "disgraceful fashion".

    The judge also paid tribute to the "dedication" of hospital staff who had saved Mr Janeczek's life.

  • Sport...

    Helena boxer Caferro loses on points to Belarussian

    From: Helena IR
    Helena native Duran Caferro, Jr., was defeated by Vazgen Safaryants of Belarus 5-1 at the World Cup of Petroleum Countries boxing tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia on Thursday.

    The longtime H-town Eagles Boxing Club member and USA amateur national champion in the lightweight division is still searching for his first win in international competition, going 0-4 to start.

    “Here in the United States he went to several national tournaments and lost. He had to pay his dues before he started to win,” said Caferro’s father and trainer, Duran Caferro, Sr. “On the international level he hasn’t won yet, but he’s going to continue to pay his dues.”

    Caferro, Sr., who was not able to watch his son compete for the first time since teaching him the sport, spoke to his son after the fight, who has had limited communication from the arena.

    “He felt he had a good fight,” Caferro, Sr., said. “He was landing a lot of lefts in the last round and uppercuts, but they weren’t counting as points. He texted me and he felt he won the fight, and he’s pretty distraught about it.

    “Nine minutes of boxing and Junior only scored one point, I find that doubtful.”

    Caferro, Sr., said his son isn’t just competing against the fighter, but the five judges and ref when in the competing country.

    Caferro, Jr., will remain with Team USA until Tuesday, when he returns to Helena to begin training all over again.

    “He is an outstanding representative for the community, the state and the country as well,” Caferro, Sr., said.

    Anton Kushnir wins arials in China

    Belarus' Anton Kushnir scored his first World Cup win in two seasons with a dominant victory.

    The 25-year old won both runs with 247.15 pointsin China with home favourites Liu Zhongqing and Wu Chao second and third respectively.

  • Endnote...

    Learning from the Baltic states

    From: Baltic Reports
    Times are tough but there are many things the people of the Baltic states can take pride in and teach the West.
    When hanging out with fellow expatriates here in the Baltic states, as I often am, at some point or another the conversation goes in the direction of what these countries should do to be more like the West.

    It’s especially interesting because sometimes after they’re done complaining about some awful this and that here, five minutes later they’ll complain about someone else being so negative and complaining. As you can see, there’s a whole lotta complaining goin’ on.

    In my year and a half in Lithuania, I’ve spent plenty of time in the other Baltic states and of course, compared the situation here to that back in the U.S.

    Obviously there are things in the Baltic states that could be improved. The business culture can be vicious, the driving insane, the customer service appalling, the politics corrupt. Hard to argue with those.

    However, I think the Sir Complain-a-lots are forgetting a) the good things that make them want to stay here, and b) things the Baltic countries do better than the West.

    Now, speaking for the West as a whole would be rather presumptuous of me for obvious reasons. I’m not the president. So I’ll just look at things Americans should do more like the locals.

    This is a longer list than you might expect, but for the sake of not frying your eyes on computer screen glare I’ll focus on a few main points.

    If you’re lucky enough to become acquainted with a Balt that knows how to cook the local cuisine, which is most, you’ll soon discover that you don’t miss your cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and American “cheese.” In fact, you’ll wonder how you ever put up with eating such microwave-instant-processed sludge.

    The reason for this is that Americans have forgotten how to make things. Well, sure people still cook, but that’s the most they can be bothered with. I was raised primarily in Wisconsin, which is known in the U.S. as “The Dairy State” but I never meet a single person that made cheese at home like the Lithuanians do.

    They don’t know what they’re missing. In the Baltic states you can eat like a king on a most meager salary, because people still know how to make their own food and because the produce is fresh, not so processed.

    While living here I had the same reaction as one of my favorite bloggers, the BBC’s Mark Mardell had in Turkey. I never want to return to the land of tastelessness, where all the natural flavor has been dried out in a Sysco freezer months before reaching my plate.

    Can't find fresh bread like this in the U.S. Photo by Nathan Greenhalgh.
    Baltic cuisine isn’t so well known abroad, like many things about these countries. But some daring local is going to head to New York or Chicago or L.A. and make a lot of money reproducing the Baltic cuisine someday. Shake your head in disbelief, but consider this — before the 1940s there was nary a pizza parlor in the whole U.S.

    I mentioned above that the politics here can be on the corrupt side. However, there’s something the locals do that the American political system would do well to adapt — more low-key campaigns. During the presidential campaign I saw hardly any campaign posters, only one person ever knocked on my door to talk about a candidate, and there was little of the incessant, mindless horse-race media coverage that often ends up obscuring what’s actually at stake in the election.

    Here, those interested in voting looked at the candidates on their own, considered the issues and voted without being hounded by the circus promoters. There’s a dignity to it that perhaps American democracy once had but has since lost in a swirl of sound bites, bumper stickers and mass rallies.

    I brought up corruption in politics earlier — isn’t paying for our unbelievably expensive campaigns the primary reason the lobbyists always win?

    Despite the corruption, relative poverty and other difficulties people in the Baltic states have faced in the last 20 years, you really can’t help but be proud of what these countries have turned into regardless of the crisis, the IMF loans and the current difficulties. Dear doomsayers, it could be worse. These countries could easily have ended up like fellow ex-Soviet republics Belarus, Ukraine or Russia had it not been for the ingenuity of the locals.

    Some people have posted comments saying “well, what would your country look like if it had been occupied 50 years?” It’s a good point — I haven’t the foggiest.