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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Balanced relations with East and West, Russian Oil, CSTO, Amnesty, Selling arms, Opposition, Elections, NATO, Sport and Polish scandals...

  • From the Top...
  • #483

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus seeks balanced relations with both East and West

    From: BelTA
    Belarus intends to cultivate balanced relations with both East and West, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he received credentials from foreign ambassadors, BelTA has learnt.

    Alexander Lukashenko underlined that such a multi-directed and pragmatic stance has helped the country maintain positive cooperation trends with the European Union. The independent, multi-directed, pragmatic and consistent foreign policy pursued by Belarus has proved to be right. “We will remain committed to these principles that allow us to fulfill the potential of cooperation with other countries in full,” the head of state underlined.

    The President expressed hope that the diplomats will appreciate that Belarus is a reliable and promising partner and will be able to deliver the objective information about Belarus to their countries and governments, which is open to the world, open to contacts and fruitful cooperation with all the states.

    “You will come to see that Belarus is an independent state which occupies a worthy place in the international community. Our foreign policy is based on the principles of promoting peace, respect to peoples, good-neighborly relations, non-interference into the domestic affairs of other states and willingness to develop most active economic and cultural contacts”, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus-Iran cooperation potential is not realized in full

    Alexander Lukashenko meets with Head of Presidential Office of Iran 28 January
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko thinks that Belarus and Iran do not exploit their huge cooperation potential fully. The Belarusian leader made this statement as he met with Head of the Presidential Office of Iran Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie on 28 January, BelTA has learnt.

    “The cooperation potential of our countries is enormous, but it is almost untapped. I am convinced that today’s meetings will help us finally settle the most challenging issues in the economy, trade and economic cooperation,” the head of state said.

    Iran is Belarus’ traditional trading partner. In January-November 2009, the bilateral trade made up $65.2 million. The two countries set up the Belarusian-Iranian commission for economic cooperation and the joint committee for cooperation in industry and mines. The legal framework of both the countries includes 35 interstate and interdepartmental agreements. Belarus and Iran signed a package of the basic economic agreements. Belarus’ main exports to Iran are metal products, tractors, potash fertiliser. Belarus imports cars, spare parts for them and fruits from Iran. The participation of private Iranian companies in implementation of a number investment projects on construction and infrastructure modernization in Belarus is promising. The sides are discussing the participation of the Iranian side in the construction of hotel and housing development, the construction of the transport and logistics center Prilesie in the Minsk Free Economic Zone, the construction of the multifunctional business and trading center Chervensky, the trade and business center Kayson in Minsk. There are two banks with the Iranian capital operate in Belarus.

    The Belarusian head of state pointed out to the similar stance of Belarus and Iran towards the topical issues of international agenda. The two countries support each other at elections in UN system’s bodies. Belarus and Iran have similar viewpoints on the basic issues of the international agenda including the establishment of the just world order.

    The Belarusian head of state pointed out to the similar stance of Belarus and Iran towards the topical issues of international agenda. “The special thing about your visit is that it is well-timed. I think that we will be able to discuss all the issues without diplomatic embellishments,” Alexander Lukashenko said as he addressed the Iranian guest. He added that he is interested in “learning about the situation in Iran, the major challenges the country is facing now first hand.”

    The Head of the Presidential Office of Iran pointed out to the friendly relations between the two countries. “Our countries are in the same conditions, they pursue the same goals to expand the bilateral cooperation and remain free and independent at the same time. Belarus and Iran are globally recognized for fighting for their independence and honoring their commitments,” he said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Defense Ministers of Belarus and Russia approve 2010 cooperation plan

    From: BelTA
    Defense Ministers of Belarus and Russia Yury Zhadobin and Anatoly Serdyukov approved the plan of cooperation between the ministries for 2010. The document was signed following a meeting between the defense ministers in Moscow on 29 January.

    The plan includes 68 operational and combat training events and also working meetings between the delegations of the defense ministries of the two countries.

    Yury Zhadobin and Anatoly Serdyukov also signed the protocol to the 1996 agreement on the allocation of training grounds by Russia to Belarus for combat shootings. In accordance with the agreement, the Russian side gives its firing grounds to Belarus for it to practice combat shooting. The new protocol allows conducting combat shooting both by antiaircraft units and air units of the air forces and air defense forces of Belarus on the same terms.

    The participants of the meeting considered the goals of the joint exercise of the Armed Forces of Belarus and Russia slated for 2011. The Presidents of the two counties agreed to hold such exercises once in two years, Yuri Zhadobin said.

    Yuri Zhadobin stressed that his first visit to Russia as Defense Minister was very fruitful. The sides discussed twelve issues related to military cooperation. “Cooperation between the Defense Ministries of Belarus and Russia is at a very high level. We will take every effort to develop and strengthen these relations,” the Defense Minister of Belarus said.

    According to the press service of the Russian Defense Ministry, the two sides discussed the implementation of the agreement on the joint air defense of the Union State border and the setting up of the United Regional Air Defense. The two parties also considered a Union State program that envisages the development of a low-level radar field on the Belarus-Russia state border. Joint enactments on military and technical cooperation were discussed as well. The sides also discussed the Russian military participation in the joint parade in Belarus to mark the 65th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War.

    Rachkovsky denies tightening of controls on Belarus-Russia border, but admits technical problems

    Belarus and Russia have not strengthened control on the administrative Belarusian-Russian border. Although there are some technical problems which will be solved as the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan starts operating at the full capacity, chairman of the State Border Committee of Belarus Igor Rachkovsky told a press conference.

    “It is an open secret that Russia unilaterally exercises transport and in fact customs control on the border. This pertains to the temporary import of transport vehicles to Russia. There are around 15 temporary vehicle import registration points. We have seen Russia develop additional customs infrastructure and increase the number of customs and other units,” Igor Rachkovsky said.

    But the main problem lies in simple technical questions. “The information about the tightening of border controls has been probably caused by the absence of normal conditions for border crossing for Belarusian citizens and carriers. The lack of proper comfortable conditions, frequent long queues, and additional procedures at the inner boundary of the Union State cause concerns among Belarusians,” said Igor Rachkovsky.

    In fact, very often people say that it is quicker and more comfortable to cross the border between Belarus and the EU than the inner boundary of the Union State, which does not exist de jure.

    “The situation is clear. There is no reinforcement, but there are technical problems only. I hope that they will disappear after the Customs Union starts operating at the full capacity” summarized Igor Rachkovsky.

    CSTO to promote European Security Treaty

    From: BelTA
    – Representatives of ministries and bodies of the CSTO member states held a meeting to discuss the draft European Security Treaty on 28 January. The participants of the meeting confirmed the intention of their countries to actively promote the initiative to sign the abovementioned document, BelTA learnt from the press service of the CSTO Secretariat.

    The participants of the consultations confirmed the CSTO’s determination to maintain security in its area of responsibility and promote international stability through the collective response to common security challenges and threats. They emphasized the urgency of the task to adjust the Euro-Atlantic security structure to present day international relations based on the principles of supremacy of the international law and the central role of the UN, single and indivisible security for all the states, inadmissibility of isolation of any country or the presence of zones with different security levels. The participants of the session welcomed the draft European Security Treaty adopted and officially distributed by Russia following the negotiations in the CSTO and other international organizations in 2008-2009. They approved the draft European Security Treaty and expressed hope for the positive reception of the draft treaty by foreign partners.

    The participants of the meeting emphasized that the draft agreement provides equal security guarantees to all the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian states. These guarantees are based on the legally binding high-profile commitments.

    In the context of the common efforts of the CSTO member states to promote the Russia’s initiative, experts underlined the importance of the Kazakhstan’s proposal to convene the OSCE summit in 2010. The meeting will bring together the heads of the CSTO, Nato, OSCE, EU and CIS to discuss security strategies and reconcile positions in order to create the common security zone.

    Experts of EC, Belarus discuss visa liberalization

    A delegation of experts of the European Commission is in Minsk on a visit on 27-28 January. The delegation is led by Jean de Ceuster, head of the international aspects of migration and visa policy department of the Directorate-General for Freedom, Security and Justice of the European Commission, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The European experts met with the officials of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. The sides shared their opinions on a possibility to conclude an agreement between Belarus and the EU on the simplification of visa procedures and the reduction of visa costs for Belarusians. The Belarusian delegation was led by Alexander Ostrovsky, Head of the Chief Consular Department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The delegation of the European Commission held a meeting at the Citizenship and Migration Department of the Interior Ministry of Belarus to discuss the approaches to the solution of urgent migration problems.

    In addition, the European guests visited the passport bureau of the Interior Ministry.

    Possible amnesty in Belarus soon

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is contemplating a possibility of granting a regular free pardon, Interior Minister of Belarus Anatoly Kuleshov told a press conference on 28 January.

    The pardon is likely to be timed to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War.

    Speaking on a possible readmission agreement between Belarus and the European Union, Anatoly Kuleshov said that he approves of this process. The adoption of this document has an economic aspect as well. Both Belarusians and citizens of other states are held in Belarusian penitentiary institutions. The readmission agreement will help get rid of these additional expenses.

    Anatoly Kuleshov said that it is early to speak about possible relaxation of visa requirements for Belarusian travelers to the EU. “We should sign the agreement first,” said the Belarusian Interior Minister.

    As of today, the jail population in Belarus is about 47,000, of them 1,100 foreign citizens, including more than 600 Russian citizens. There are also a considerable number of Ukrainians in the Belarusian prisons.

    Belarus lifts restrictions on children’s recuperation abroad

    Belarus has lifted restrictions on children’s recuperation in foreign countries with which Belarus has signed international agreements. There are no longer restrictions on the age and the number of entries. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed relevant Decree No. 59 on 28 January, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    Before this document was signed, Belarusian children aged 7-18 could travel to the countries with which Belarus had signed international agreements before 1 October 2008, while the countries with which the agreements had been signed after 1 October 2008 could only receive children aged 7-14.

    Apart from that, Belarusian children could not visit the same country more than three times, except for the states with which Belarus had signed international agreements before 1 October 2008.

  • Economics...

    Belarus to raise oil transit tariff 11% on 1 February

    From: BelTA
    The tariff for the Russian oil transit via the territory of Belarus and oil transportation from the border to Belarusian refineries will increase 11% beginning 1 February, BelTA learnt from the Economy Ministry of Belarus.

    The oil transportation tariff is set forth in Resolution No. 16 and the transit tariff in Resolution No. 17 of the Economy Ministry.

    The tariffs were readjusted using the methods adopted by Belarus and Russia in Moscow on 27 January.

    The oil transit tariffs used to be calculated in Euro. “These tariffs are now calculated in Russian rubles and will be increased by 11% on 1 February,” the Economy Ministry said.

    Belagroprombank profits 1.2 times up in 2009

    In 2009 Belagroprombank profits totaled Br129.2 billion, 1.2 times up from 2008. The bank’s profitability stood at 4.6%, BelTA learnt from the bank.

    As of 1 January 2010 the bank’s authorized capital was Br3878.6 billion, 1.3% up.

    The resource potential of the bank increased by almost one third to Br20.2 trillion. Thus, the amount of retail deposits for the period grew 41% to br2128.3 billion.

    Belagroprombank’s gross loans to the economy totaled Br18.8 trillion, up 44% from the beginning of 2009.

    Belagroprombank was registered on 3 September 1991. In accordance with Resolution No. 849/7 of the Government of Belarus and the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus of 18 June 2008, Belagroprombank has been authorized to service state lending programmes.

    Fitch has assigned Belagroprombank the following ratings: Long-term at B-, Short- term at B, Outlook is Stable, the Individual rating - D/E, the Support rating — 5.

    Moody’s Investors assigned a B2 long-term foreign currency deposits ratings and a Not Prime short-term one, a Ba1 long-term national currency deposits rating and a Not Prime short-term one as well as an E+ financial stability rating.

    Representatives of 10 big French companies to visit Minsk in February

    Representatives of big French companies will visit Minsk in February, BelTA learnt from Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Belarus Michel Raineri. On 29 January, the French Ambassador presented credentials to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Michel Raineri noted that representatives of ten French companies are expected to arrive in the Belarusian capital. According to the French Ambassador, a visit of a delegation of the Movement of the French Enterprises (MEDEF) to Minsk a year ago gave an impetus to the dialogue and development of the cooperation between Belarusian and French companies.

    In January this year, the Belarusian official governmental delegation led by Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko had talks at the MEDEF HQ in Paris. The sides confirmed their interest to strengthen the trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Precarious Russia oil deal may hit Belarus refiners

    From: Reuters
    Belarus may need to cut refinery runs after bending to Russian demands on the amount of oil it can import duty-free, traders said on Thursday, a day after the ex-Soviet states signed a deal to end a month-long oil dispute.

    But Russia's hard-won deal, which will secure the Kremlin a bigger share of oil revenues, may prove to be short-lived. The Belarussian government said in a statement it would pursue the removal of export tariffs in line with a planned customs union.

    "Within a customs union, the agreements reached in Moscow cannot exist for long," the Belarussian government said. Russia and Belarus agreed an oil supply deal on Wednesday, easing fears in Germany and Poland that the escalating dispute could affect deliveries of crude along a route carrying about 10 percent of European supplies from West Siberian oilfields.

    Russia agreed to supply 6.3 million tonnes of duty-free oil to Belarus, enough for its domestic consumption, with a proviso that this amount could be raised after September should the Belarussian economy exceed growth forecasts.

    "We are prepared to deliver all the oil Belarus needs for its own market without duties," Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters in Helsinki.

    But analysts said Moscow had won the biggest concessions.

    "On face value, Russia probably won this dispute, since Belarus wanted more oil exempt from export duties," said Chirvani Abdoullaev, senior oil and gas analyst at Alfa-Bank.

    Belarus, which signed the deal as supplies to its two refineries slowed to a trickle, must pay full export duties on the excess Russian crude it receives after paying only 35.6 percent last year.

    These volumes are likely to exceed 14 million tonnes, most of which is refined and re-exported.

    Several Russian traders said refinery runs in Belarus were almost certain to fall as a result. One trader said this could even force one of the two plants, Naftan or Mozyr, to close.

    "Refinery runs will definitely come down. The refineries were only surviving on the low duties," one trading source said.

    Belarussian state oil concern Belneftekhim declined comment.


    Belarussian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko was quoted by agencies as saying Russian oil refined in Belarus and returned to Russia for export would be exempt from duties.

    Semashko, who attended the talks in Moscow, also said Belarus would forge ahead with plans to modernise its two refineries. "Under no circumstances will we slow the tempo of reconstruction," he said in a separate statement.

    The dispute had the potential to flare up again, analysts said, as the planned customs union between Russia, Belarus and another ex-Soviet state, Kazakhstan, begins to take shape.

    Russian traders, who met with customs brokers on Thursday, said they had received few clues on what action to take next.

    "There is uncertainty about how the duty-free volumes will be spread throughout the course of the year, as January deliveries were imposed at 100 percent," one source said, adding that Belarus had not received any oil duty-free this month.

    Russia had agreed to an 11 percent hike in transit fees on crude that crosses the territory of Belarus en route to Europe, Semashko was quoted as saying by Belarussian news agencies.

    "It's a material shift in pricing terms. Essentially, it will help the Russian budget," said Lev Snykov, oil and gas analyst at VTB Capital in Moscow. "Russia is running the pipeline business, which helps in resolving these issues."

    The deal might also give impetus to oil pipeline monopoly Transneft's project to build phase two of the Baltic Pipeline System, a 1,000-km (625-mile) route to the Baltic Sea that will bypass Belarus.

    Russia-Belarus Union government to meet in March

    From: RIA Novosti
    The Russian and Belarusian prime ministers agreed on Saturday to hold the next meeting of the Union government in March.

    According to a spokesman for the Russian head of government, Vladimir Putin and Sergei Sidorsky discussed energy and financial cooperation in a telephone conversation.

    "Putin and Sidorsky have agreed to hold the next meeting of the Union government of Russia and Belarus in March in the city of Brest," Dmitry Peskov said

    On Wednesday, Russia and Belarus signed an array of agreements on crude oil deliveries to the former Soviet state and transits to Europe.

    Russia earlier offered to supply Belarus with some 6.3 million metric tons of oil for domestic consumption duty-free and demanded Minsk pay full import duties on crude it refines and transits to Europe, dropping considerable subsidies.

    Belarus requested Russia to supply up to 30 million metric tons of oil duty free, saying it would otherwise increase transit fees for Europe-bound oil from $3.90 to $45.

    Russian oil supplies via the ex-Soviet republic have continued throughout the dispute. A spat between Moscow and Minsk in 2007 led to disruptions in supplies to Poland and Germany.

    Russia has had frequent disputes with its former Soviet neighbors over energy prices in recent years, as it has moved to bring tariffs closer to free market levels. The West has accused Moscow of using energy as a political tool in ties with Ukraine and Belarus, major transit nations for its natural gas and oil flows.

    Belarusian May Regret Chinese Potash Deal, Doyle Says

    From: Bloomberg
    Belarusian Potash Co. and Israel Chemicals Ltd. should have negotiated a better deal with their Chinese clients because fertilizer prices will rebound later this year, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. Chief Executive Officer William Doyle said.

    BPC, as the company is called, agreed to sell potash to Chinese importers for $350 a metric ton last month, and Israel Chemicals on Jan. 17 struck a deal with China National Offshore Oil Corp. Ltd. for as low as $355 a ton. Potash climbed to a record of more than $1,000 a ton in some parts of the world in 2008 before collapsing as farmers cut purchases because of slumping grain prices.

    Potash Corp., the world’s largest producer of the soil nutrient, is part of a Canadian export group called Canpotex Ltd. that is negotiating with the Chinese. Canpotex has refused to sell to the Chinese at terms similar to those that BPC and Israel Chemicals accepted, Doyle said.

    “From the BPC and maybe even the ICL point of view, I think they will both come to regret their contracts with China by the time the second half of the year rolls around,” Doyle said today on a conference call with analysts. “These settlements will go down as absolutely the low point.”

    Potash Corp. accounts for about 20 percent of global capacity for the fertilizer, according to a Jan. 27 report by Bank of America Corp. China accounted for 22 percent of global potash consumption last year, according Fertecon, a Tunbridge Wells, England-based fertilizer adviser.

    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Potash Corp. was “surprised” by the Belarus agreement, Doyle said.

    ‘Panic Seller’

    “The settlement with China was too low,” he said. “To tie in at this pricing level for the whole year would have been a mistake for us. BPC have proved to be a bit of a panic seller. They are basically inexperienced marketers. They have panicked in both directions.”

    Spokesmen for BPC and Israel Chemicals couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

    Discussions between Canpotex and China are set to resume next week and the two sides may not reach a deal until the second half of the year, Doyle said. He didn’t elaborate on terms of a potential agreement. Mosaic Co. and Agrium Inc. are the other members of Canpotex.

    “China doesn’t have its order book filled,” said Doyle. “They’re going to need Canadian potash. There is no doubt about it.”

    China may consume as much as 26 million tons of potash annually within 15 years, according to a forecast by the International Plant Nutrition Institute that Doyle cited on the call. Potash’s forecast calls for China to consume 8 million to 9 million tons of the fertilizer in 2010.

    North Korean Arms Were Headed to Iran, Thailand Report Says

    An airport in Iran’s capital of Tehran was the intended destination for a North Korean weapons shipment seized in Bangkok on Dec. 12, according to a confidential report to the United Nations Security Council by Thailand’s government.

    A copy of the report, obtained from diplomats whose governments hold Security Council seats, said the 40-ton cargo’s destination was Airport Mahrabad in Tehran. It says the plane departed from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and that the shipper was the Korea Mechanical Industry Co.

    Thai authorities seized the Russian-made Ilyushin II-76 cargo aircraft after receiving tips from several different intelligence agencies. The report says the cargo included 49 rockets, a rocket launcher, three crates of fuses and rocket- propelled grenades.

    The plane was impounded under a UN resolution passed in June 2009 to punish Kim Jong Il’s regime for firing a Taepodong- 2 rocket over the Sea of Japan in April and testing a second nuclear bomb a month later. The measure authorizes inspections of North Korean air or sea cargo suspected of containing weapons and bars North Korea from exporting any arms.

    Pornprom Petklai, spokeswoman for Thailand’s mission to the UN, said her government submitted the report last month. She declined to discuss its contents. Thailand doesn’t currently have a seat on the Security Council.

    “We applaud the Thai authorities for their work in reporting information on this incident to the Security Council Sanctions Committee,” said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN. “We encourage other countries to remain vigilant in implementing UN Security Council resolutions.”

    Security Council Assessment

    The Security Council committee is assessing the Thai government’s report and drafting letters that will be sent to North Korea and other relevant governments requesting further information, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition they aren’t identified. Letters might go to Iran and Georgia, which is listed in the Thai report as the base of the flight operator, they said.

    The committee is scheduled to report on the case to the Security Council on Feb. 11.

    The seizure and subsequent investigations may shed light on North Korean arms deals, a key source of foreign-currency income for the reclusive state. North Korea earns about $1.5 billion annually from missile sales, mostly to Iran via airports in China, the U.S.-based Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis said in a report this year.

    Other Arms Seizures

    There have been three other seizures of arms allegedly going to or from Iran in the past year. Israel intercepted a ship it said was carrying arms to Syria from Iran in November. The United Arab Emirates in August seized a ship carrying North Korean-manufactured munitions, detonators, explosives and rocket-propelled grenades bound for Iran. Another shipment of Iranian arms, also allegedly bound for Syria, was detained by Cyprus last January.

    Israel believes the arms were intended to go to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and the Hamas Islamic movement in the Gaza Strip, both of which are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S.

    U.S. intelligence agencies contributed to Thailand’s seizure of the weapons, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Dec. 18. Blair said “teamwork among different agencies in the United States and partners abroad led to the interdiction.”

    The missions of Iran and North Korea didn’t respond to a request for comment on the report.

    Thai prosecutors defer decision on arms cargo plane crew

    In a related RIA Novosti story, Thai prosecutors have put off until Feb. 11 a decision on whether to indict the crew of a cargo plane that was seized with illegal weaponry from North Korea on board, national media said on Friday.

    The Il-76 cargo plane carrying 35 tons of weaponry was seized during refueling at Bangkok's Don Muang airport on December 12. The plane's five crew - four Kazakhs and one Belarusian - were arrested and taken to a Bangkok prison.

    The Bangkok Post cited Kayasit Pissawanprakan, chief of the Criminal Litigation Office, as saying the prosecution needed more time to examine the case, which remains shrouded in mystery.

    One of the issues yet to be cleared up is the intended final destination of the plane.

    In line with Thai laws, a criminal case is investigated for up to 84 days.

    The crew, which has been refused bail by a Thai judge, is charged with transporting weapons without permission, illegally taking them to Thailand, and failing to inform officials of the cargo.

    The crew members have said they were unaware of the military nature of the cargo. They say they were told the cargo was oil drilling equipment.

  • From the Opposition...

    Mocking “minimum”

    From: Charter '97
    The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Belarus issued a regulation establishing sizes of minimum consumer budget in average prices of December 2009.

    The norms will be effective from February 1 to April 30 2010. The average minimum consumer budget for a four-person family will amount to 390,020 rubles per month from February 1, 2010. As of now, the minimum budget comes to 387,690 rubles ($134).

    The minimum consumer budget is a social standard for forecasting changes in level of living and governmental aid to the needy. However, the authorities do not apparently hurry to help, so the size of the minimum budget is derisive. How can a person to live on 100,000 rubles ($32)?

    We remind that the Belarus demonstrated Europe’s second highest inflation rate in 2009. According to official data, consumer prices in the country increased by 10.1%, but independent experts claim the inflation rate was even higher.

    The country showed the highest rise in the US dollar against the national currency among the post-Soviet countries. The official rate of the dollar grew by 30.14% (from 2200 to 2863 rubles) over the year.

    The minimum wage of a Belarusian amounts to 229,700 rubles ($79.4 according to the exchange rate of the National Bank) since August 1, 2009.

    Mahiliou democrats to appeal refusal to elect oppositionist for local electoral committee

    From: Viasna
    ‘There will be no representatives of the city’s pro-democratic organizations. All the 4 candidates nominated by local democrats were turned down,’ says human rights activist Barys Bukhel.

    The composition of Mahiliou city electoral committee was pre-settled, with no seats for oppositionists, says the activist.

    Members of the BPF Adradzhenne’s local office say they are going to appeal the decision.

    Formation of Hrodna city electoral committee follows classic scenario

    The joint meeting of Hrodna city council of deputies and Hrodna city executive committee, which lasted for only quarter of an hour, did not vote for any of the 13 candidates nominated for membership in local electoral committee by major Belarusian opposition parties (BPF, UCPB and BCDP Hramada). Like in the majority of other cases, the candidates were not considered at the meeting.

    No democrats on Baranavichy town electoral committee

    None of the 4 representatives of opposition political parties nominated for membership in Baranavichy town electoral committee was elected by a joint meeting of Baranavichy town council of deputies and Baranavichy town executive committee.

    The was neither open debate nor voting on the candidates.

    Barysau activists appeal formation of district electoral committee

    A number of Barysau activists have lodged a complaint with Barysau District Court against the decision by a joint meeting of Barysau district council of deputies and Barysau district executive committee, depriving local activist Maryna Statkevich of her right to be elected member of district electoral committee, despite her nomination by a group of citizens.

    According to local human rights activist Aleh Matskevich, the complaint urges the court to find the decision illegal.

    Under the current legislation, the verdict is to be delivered within three days.

  • Russia...

    Russia to sell Libya weapons in $1.8 billion deal

    From: CNN
    Libya's President Muammar Qadaffi
    Russia signed a deal with Libya to provide nearly $2 billion in arms to the North African nation, Russian state media reported Saturday.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the contract with Libya on Saturday, news agency RIA Novosti reported.

    The agency did not have specifics of the 1.3 billion euro ($1.8 billion) deal inked Friday, but reported that Putin said it was "not only for small arms and light weapons."

    Rosoboronexport, Russia's government-run arms export agency, previously said it had five military contracts with Libya that included "military equipment for its ground forces and the navy, the modernization of T-72 tanks and spare parts supplies," RIA Novosti reported.

    Russia offers to help NATO, but not for free

    A plan to pay Taliban fighters to abandon violence and join the mainstream of Afghan society is viewed with skepticism
    - Russia is willing to help NATO in Afghanistan, but not for free, the Russian envoy to the alliance said Friday.

    Dmitry Rogozin also slammed NATO for failing to do more to fight the drug trade in Afghanistan, saying Russia has suffered because of that failure. And he expressed skepticism about a plan to pay Taliban fighters to abandon violence and join the mainstream of Afghan society.

    NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia last month to provide helicopters and training for the Afghan air force and to train more local police.

    Rogozin said Russia was looking at the request, but wants to understand who will pay for it. He added that some NATO countries could help share the costs.

    "We aren't going to supply NATO with anything free of charge," he said in a video hookup from Brussels. "They can afford to pay for that."

    He didn't rule out providing free supplies to the Afghan government, but said that would require a political decision by the Kremlin.

    Moscow has repeatedly expressed its willingness to help the war effort in Afghanistan, due to fears that a return to power by Taliban extremists would destabilize Central Asia and endanger Russia's security.

    But the country's support for NATO- and US-led operations so far has been limited to offering transit for railway shipments of non-lethal supplies and air corridors for weapons supplies, as supply routes through Pakistan have come under increased Taliban attack.

    Rogozin said shipments have been slow to start because NATO has dragged its feet on negotiating transit agreements with Central Asian nations. He also said technical problems regarding U.S. air transit need to be solved, but he refused to elaborate.

    He criticized NATO harshly for failing to make stronger efforts to fight drug production.

    "NATO doesn't want to do more to fight drugs in Afghanistan, because it fears it would inflict more losses to its forces," he said. "They prefer to turn a blind eye to that. They think it's not their problem, because Afghan heroin mostly goes to Central Asia and Russia."

    Rogozin was also openly skeptical of a NATO plan to persuade Taliban fighters to disarm in exchange for jobs and homes, saying that the world community must focus on rebuilding the nation's battered infrastructure. He argued that Russian companies should be awarded contracts for rebuilding factories, power plants and other facilities built by the Soviet Union.

    Georgian gets 20 years in jail for spying for Russia

    From: RIA Novosti
    A Georgian political scientist and former diplomat was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of spying for Russia during the August 2008 war between the two ex-Soviet states.

    Vakhtang Maisaya, head of the political science department at Tbilisi State University and a former diplomat who worked in Georgia's mission in NATO, was accused of passing information on Georgian arms purchases and military movements to Russia, Kommersant daily reported on Saturday.

    Maisaya "passed hourly information on troop numbers and their positions," the Georgian Interior Ministry said in a statement, the paper reported.

    Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war after Tbilisi launched an offensive against breakaway South Ossetia.

    The lawyer acting for Maisaya said her client maintains his innocence.

    "We will appeal the ruling issued by the Tbilisi City Court," Natia Korkotadze said as quoted by the daily.

    Maisaya was arrested on May 5, 2009, when a group of high-ranking military officials were also arrested after a mutiny at a base outside Tbilisi. Authorities said the military had sought to overthrow the government, but were not supported by soldiers. The arrests came as the Georgian capital was rocked by anti-government protests.

    Huge 13-Year-Old Russian Boy Suffocates After Watching TV Show About Himself

    From: Pravda.Ru
    Sasha Pekhtelev
    Sasha Pekhtelev, a 13-year-old boy weighing 180 kilos (396.8 lbs), was delivered to a hospital in the city of Volgograd on Friday afternoon. The boy began to suffocate and had swollen legs: he could not get up from his bed for seven days.

    Paramedics had to call a rescue squad to help them take the boy out of the apartment building. Sasha was hospitalized to the intensive care unit of the city’s children’s hospital.

    The boy has Prader Willi Syndrome (PWS) - a rare genetic disorder. Doctors also believe that the boy most likely has diabetes.

    The boy’s grandmother, Vera Konovalova, said that the boy’s health worsened after “Let Them Talk” talk show on TV, which was devoted to him.

    “Sasha is a clever boy. He started crying when he was watching the show because the woman in the TV was lying, as he said. We often go out, his teacher visits him all the time, but they said on the show that the boy was not going anywhere out. They also said there that he does not have any friends and no one takes care of him. This is not true,” the woman said.

    Medics have a different opinion.

    “Sasha Pehtelev currently stays in the intensive care unit of the hospital because there is no bed in the entire building that would suit a person with his weight. He is in a stable condition. The child with such a diagnosis and such weight is supposed to be observed regularly. However, he received medical aid for the first time only when he was hospitalized with furuncle inflammation last year. In addition, I think his grandmother showed negative influence on him after the talk show because she was represented in the show negatively,” doctor Klavdia Nikitenko said.

    The story about the 180-kilo boy surfaced in October of this year, when the boy was hospitalized for the first time. It was reported that the boy had no friends and had been staying indoors for several years. Agencies said that the boy was living only with his grandmother and grandfather.

    When doctors arrived, they had to call a rescue team for help. Five strong men were taking the boy down the stairs outside.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Police detain 120 in Polish pedophilia sting

    From: Earthtimes
    Some 120 people were detained on Thursday on suspicion of owning and distributing internet child pornography, Polish National Police said. Police across Poland in total secured 112 computers, 47 hard disks and nearly 7,500 CDs and DVDs in the nation-wide Operation Roxane, according to a police statement.

    The operation launched in Radom, central Poland, after local police there found some 100 IP addresses of users suspected of owning or distributing child pornography on the internet.

    The police launched the operation at before dawn Thursday throughout the country. The suspects face up to 8 years in prison if convicted.

    Poland's national police conducted eight such operations last year and detained 473 people, officials said.

    Scandal of Polish convict who raped girl after being allowed into the country

    From: Daily Gazette
    Slawomir Blasiak
    A RAPIST should never have been allowed out of his native Poland to commit his brutal crime, the Gazette can reveal.

    Slawomir Blasiak raped a 15-year-old girl after he found her contemplating suicide at a Colchester car park.

    However, he should never have been allowed into the UK, as he was a convicted robber who was on the run from police.

    The incident happened in May, 2008, and since then the 43-year-old Polish national, who was living in Sittang Close, Colchester, repeatedly denied the attack.

    The court heard the girl, who had been staying in a children’s home, was going to cut her wrists and throw herself from a high wall onto a car park when Blasiak started talking to her. He then attacked her.

    In court, his victim was forced to relive her ordeal via video link, being subjected to cross-examination by the defence lawyers.

    Last month, a jury found him guilty of rape and four counts of sexual activity with a child.

    Blasiak has now been given an indeterminate prison sentence for the public’s protection, meaning he will not be released until he is no longer a danger.

    Even then, Blasiak will not be allowed to return to his home in Colchester, but will be deported.

    Meanwhile, it has emerged Blasiak should never have been able to commit the crime. He was already a known violent offender, after spending time in prison in Poland for robbery.

    He was released from prison early, and was on licence when he was due to stand trial for a second robbery in the country.

    Instead, he fled, managing to pass through both Polish and UK border checks without his violent past being flagged up.

    It was only after Blasiak was in custody in Colchester in connection with the rape, that detectives were told about the outstanding European Arrest Warrant against him.

    Det Con Tim Harris, from Colchester CID, said: “It wasn’t until he was in custody and we started making inquiries with Interpol in Warsaw that we discovered his past.

    “He also uses a number of aliases, which made it more difficult.”

    Gail Adams, UK Border Agency regional director for the Midlands and East, said: “This was an appalling crime and my thoughts are with the victim.

    “The UK Border Agency Watchlist contains certain details of overseas criminal convictions, only where this information has been made available by the individual’s country of origin.

    “By the time Interpol advised the UK Border Agency of the arrest warrant for Blasiak – relating to a robbery in Poland – he was already in police custody in connection with the offence for which he has now been jailed.

    “The UK Border Agency will seek to deport Blasiak upon completion of his sentence.”

    Lindsey Read, manager of Colchester’s Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse, said it seemed the victim’s ordeal could have been avoided.

    She said: “If the authorities in Poland had done their job properly, this man wouldn’t have been in the country, so could not have committed this rape. It is absolutely horrendous and heads should roll in Poland for that.”

    Ms Read feels for the teenage victim of the horrific crime. She added: “He pleaded not guilty as well, which put her through an even more horrific ordeal.”

    Jailed Polish rapist in assassination bid

    A FORMER Polish soldier who was jailed on Friday for a vicious sexual attack on a woman tried to have her and her partner killed while he was in prison awaiting trial.

    Edward Piotrowski, 45, made two unsuccessful approaches to would-be assassins to whom he offered money in return for killing his victims in advance of his trial for rape and false imprisonment.

    Gardai averted the murder plot after it leaked back to detectives.

    Details of the ferocious attack on the couple were so shocking that Mr Justice Peter Charlton branded it the worst he had encountered in his career, before passing one of the harshest sentences for rape ever handed down in an Irish court.

    Piotrowski received five life terms. The judge said it was his intention that the former soldier would never be released.

    Piotrowski moved to Ireland in 2005 and worked as a mechanic in Edenderry, Co Offaly. He was said to be jealous of the woman's new relationship and wanted to kill both her and her partner.

    Their nightmare began when Piotrowski broke into the couple's home in November 2007.

    In her statement, she said she awoke suddenly when she was hit in the head. When she turned on the light she saw a man in a balaclava standing at the bed, attacking her boyfriend.

    She instantly recognised her assailant and pleaded with him to stop.

    With his identity blown, Piotrowski threatened to kill them both. He bound her partner with duct tape and slashed him 10 times with a knife. Then he raped and sexually assaulted her.

    He told them he planned to kill both of them, but that he would make it look like her boyfriend had killed her and then took his own life.

    He eventually agreed to leave when she promised him she would not report the attack. After he had gone, they called the police.

    When Piotrowski returned to his house at around 10.30am, gardai were already there and he was arrested.

    When his car was searched, gardai found night-vision glasses, an electro-shock weapon, a knife, a baton and a map of the town with a purple dot marking the victim's house.

    Piotrowski denied that he had been anywhere near the victims. However during his interrogation, Inspector Pat Murray, who led the investigation, noticed a tiny spot of blood on his left ear.

    The blood turned out to be that of his female victim.

    Despite the care he took to cover his tracks, Piotrowski's DNA was also found on a carton of orange juice in his victims' house.

    Piotrowski had prepared for the attack with chilling attention to detail.

    He broke into the house using a key he had already cut. He carried a rucksack, containing rope and duct tape. He wore a balaclava and blue plastic covers on feet to conceal his footprints.

    After leaving the house, he burned his clothes and other materials linking him to the attack.

    Despite the suspicions raised by this advance planning, Piotrowski had no criminal record, here or in his native Poland, where he had served in the army for two years.

    The impact of the attack continues to reverberate with his victims. Gardai have put protection measures in place, since learning of Piotrowski's plot to kill his victims while awaiting trial. The woman's parents have also received threats.

    The attack was described as "insane" and "horrible" by the judge on Friday.

    But the Rape Crisis Network questioned why Piotrowski was allowed to serve his five life sentences simultaneously, rather than consecutively, which would ensure a lifetime behind bars.

    Illegal workers face deportation

    A group of almost 60 foreigners have been taken into custody for working illegally in Lubin, south-west Poland.

    The State Border Guard in the region interrogated 55 Ukrainians, 2 Moldovans and a Belarusian. All had permission to be in the country, and even had work permits.

    However, the blame rests with the employer, who did not register them and allowed them to work two to three weeks before the dates set by the foreigners’ visas.

    The group has been given a week to leave Polish territory, and will not be allowed to return to Poland for a year. The Border Guard has submitted a request to the courts for the fining of the employer who allowed the foreigners to work illegally.
  • Note: It's true: Poland screws you every time

  • Sport...

    Gretzky, Messier attend KHL all-star game

    The KHL staged its second annual All-Star Game on Saturday. A red-dressed team consisting of Russian players took on the rest of the world, dressed in white, in a brand-new Minsk Arena, also the host site for the 2014 World Championship.

    While both rosters boasted with several former NHL players, the highest concentration of hockey knowledge and experience was seen at the ceremonial opening faceoff, when Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier stepped on the ice -- supported by Sergei Fedorov -- together with the KHL president Alexander Medvedev and Vyacheslav Fetisov.

    Gretzky, a guest of the Belarusian hockey federation, has family roots that go back to Belarus -- his silhouette is also on the logo of the 2014 World Championship. He held a short press conference earlier on Saturday.

    "Today is an opportunity for me to see these players play, but the level of play in both leagues is always improving," Gretzky said. "The influence of the Russian players like Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin, has helped make the NHL that much better.

    "The KHL is the same way, when the best players play here it makes it a better league. The Olympics is a great way to compare countries. For Canada, it will be a tough test to play the Russian team."

    When asked about the NHL-KHL relations, Gretzky replied:

    "I'm not here for the NHL, I don't work for them, but I think we all have the same common goal to make the game of hockey bigger and better worldwide. I think the NHL knows and understands that. I hope that when they (the KHL, the IIHF and the NHL) meet in Vancouver (during the Olympics), they can all come to an understanding that will make both leagues happy."

    Even if the KHL -- with the Cyrillic letters on the backs of the sweaters, the bigger ice surface and the pass-first attitude -- is a little different from the NHL, there's one thing that's exactly the same: The All-Star Game is not easy on the goalies.

    Team Yashin's Russians took a quick lead in the game, but Team Jagr came back and took a comfortable 4-1 lead after the first period. Cheered on by the capacity crowd of 15,000, Team Yashin came within a goal in the second, but the final score was 11-8 for Team Jagr.

    Nikolai Ladutko to study Riga’s experience in hosting World Hockey Championship

    In a related BelTA story, Acting Chairman of the Minsk City Hall Nikolai Ladutko is set travel to Riga on 31 January -2 February to study the experience of Latvian authorities in the organization of major sport events, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Minsk City Hall.

    Nikolai Ladutko will discuss a possibility of Latvia’s participation in the investment projects for the 2014 IIHF World Championship in Minsk.

    Nikolai Ladutko is set to meet with the administration of the Riga City Hall, representatives of the organizing committee of the 2006 IIHF World Championship in Riga, and representatives of Radiotehnika, Grindex and Lido companies.

    A reminder, new hotels with the total capacity of 8,000 people are planned to be constructed in Minsk for the 2014 IIHF World Championship. A special program has been developed to provide quick connection between the facilities, accommodate guests. There are plans to construct road interchanges, widen several streets, and build hotels and service centers. The championship will take place at the Minsk-Arena and the Chizhovka-Arena. For the sake of convenience, the Minsk authorities have thoroughly worked out a plan of accommodation and transport connection between the sports grounds and hotels.

  • Endnote...

    Russians Still Can’t See Belarusians as a Separate Nation, Mensk Guides Say

    Mensk tour guides say that nearly 20 years after Belarus acquired its independence, Russian visitors to their country still cannot deal with the reality that Belarus is an independent country and that Belarusians are a separate nation with a separate language, culture, and tradition.

    Sergey Plutkevich, a commentator for the portal, asked tour guides in his country “what facts from the history of Belarus shock Russian tourists?” Their answers, as summarized on that site this week, suggests just how little Russians understand about their Western neighbors (

    Anatoly Varavva, who Plutkevich says is “one of the most experienced tour guides of Belarus, said that “almost any fact which you could name when talking about the events which have occurred in our land generates shock among Russian tourists,” few of whom are prepared to acknowledge that “out history can be distinguished from the all-Russian” version.

    Tatyana Khvagina, the president of the Pinsk section of the Belarusian Association of Tour Guides, says that Russian ignorance about and attitudes toward Belarus and Belarusians had caused her much grief until she realized that the Russians had seldom been told the truth about her country.

    She noted that if one looks at the standard Russian reference works, there is nothing about the Grand Principality of Lithuania and consequently, “it turns out that in the consciousness of our neighbors is missing six entire centuries of the Belarusian land!” Without a knowledge of that period, she continued, nothing afterwards makes sense.

    But having understood that Russians do not know about this, she said, she has been able to sit still for “the tirades of certain Russian colleagues who present themselves as historians and who declare that ‘there are no Belarusians, this is an artificially created nation, and the Belarusian language in general does not exist.” At most, “’it is a dialect of Russian!’”

    Meanwhile, Aleksey Dubrovsky, another award-winning Belarusian guide, said that “Russians in reality have heard practically nothing about the Grand Principality of Lithuania and even more do not know that there was a time when Moscow was a vassal of the Grand Principality of Lithuania.”

    Given this ignorance, he continued, “Russian tourists now think that all the enormous territories which the Russian Empire included were Russian from time immemorial,” rather than being more recent acquisitions and having entirely different histories before, during and after the Russian occupation.

    Varavva acknowledged that Belarusians do not have a perfect knowledge of Russian history, but he said that unlike the Russians, “our people are much more tolerant,” and they never militantly insist on their own point of view,” even on such critical issues as the Grand Principality of Lithuania and the war of 1812 in which Belarusians fought on both sides.

    But Khvagina said that Russians really get things wrong regarding the history of Belarus: “Many Russian tourists sincerely think that precisely Russian liberated us unhappy Slave from under the centuries-long Polish oppression, exactly the same way that they think about Ukrainians. In fact,” she points out, “we are different!”

    “We have our own history which has deep roots,” she continued. “This isn’t something good or bad; it is simply a fact with which others must take into consideration if we want to have good relations.” And it is certainly the case that Belarusians have disagreements with the way in which they are treated in Poland and Lithuania.”

    But however much that may be, Belarusians are “civilized people and we must move forward, remembering our past and respecting the point of view of our neighbors. Tourism without this cannot develop.” And if some Belarusians do not know their history, they need to learn it before presuming to lecture others about Belarus.

    Nonetheless, the slighting attitude of many Russians toward the Belarusians has an impact not only on Russian visitors to Belarus and on Russian officials but also on otherwise sensible Russian commentators, as is reflected in a comment offered today by a Moscow commentator on Belarus (

    He concludes his comment on Moscow’s relationship with Minsk with the following anecdote. Relations between the two, he says, recall the relations between a trolleybus driver and one of his passengers in an old Soviet anecdote, one familiar to almost all people in that country.

    Every morning, the Moscow commentator recalls, the trolleybus driver would stop at one pickup point wondering whether a particular woman passenger would arrive. Each time, she made it before he left. “But once, having seen the running woman, the driver closed the doors just as she got there, noting “with satisfaction” that at last she hadn’t caught his trolley.