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Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Agricultural agencies restructured, Textiles, Disarmament, Death penalty, Investment projects, Polish Hooligans and a Red Revolution in Ukraine...

  • From the Top...
  • #488

    Alexander Lukashenko wants government agencies restructured

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko demanded that the structure of the ministries and government agencies be optimized within half a year. The head of state made the relevant statement at a session to improve the structure of the Agriculture and Food Ministry on 16 February, BelTA has learnt.

    It is homework for officials and agencies: to make the structure of all subordinate bodies comprehensible by the start of presidential elections, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “If ministers, governors and other officials are not able to do that, it is very bad, it is a very serious “signal”,” the President added.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, red tape among the government officials should be eliminated; it is impossible to achieve that unless the government agencies are structured in the proper way.

    “Everybody knows full well that we have invested a lot of money in the rural revival and efficient agricultural production. This process continues. But I would like to emphasize that the rural revival program will in large part be completed in the future five year term,” the President said.

    Belarus to raise agricultural export to $3-4bn per annum

    Belarus plans to raise the export of agricultural products to $3-4 billion per annum, Agriculture and Food Minister Semyon Shapiro told President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at a government session held on 16 February to improve the organization and management of the Agriculture and Food Ministry.

    According to the press service of the head of state, Belarus’ agricultural export has already exceeded $2 billion per annum. The Agriculture and Food Ministry believes the figure may reach $3-4 billion per annum taking into account future agribusiness growth. Nowadays Belarus accounts for 1% of the global milk production, 4% of the global butter export and 2% of the global cheese export.

    The number of the countries Belarusian food is exported to is rapidly increasing. In 2009 the number went up from 40 to 63.

    Yet Belarusian foods regularly face complaints about quality. According to the Minister, most of the complaints are objective and are related to keeping in mind veterinary and sanitary requirements in the countries Belarusian products are exported to. Semyon Shapiro also said that after scrutinizing Belarusian manufacturing and processing technologies (milk ones, for instance) European Union veterinary experts have no major complaints about quality. They, however, make remarks about veterinary control. Veterinary control is performed by independent bodies in the international practice. In Belarus it is often insufficiently effective because it is performed by agencies directly accountable to manufacturers. The Minister believes that an independent controlling agency would be able to make the veterinary evaluation objective.

    The President okayed the proposals aimed at creating a new Agriculture and Food Ministry department under the name of Belselkhoznadzor. The agency will take over all controlling functions in the area of animal health, seed production, quarantine, crop protection. It will also monitor the quality of the raw stock used to make food and the quality of food products.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    EU expected to lift quotas on Belarusian textiles as from 2011

    From: BelTA
    Belarus expects the European Union to lift all quotas on Belarusian textiles as from 2011, Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yevdochenko told media on 16 February.

    The official reminded that the European Union had set standalone quotas on Belarusian textiles for 2010. “We hope it is the last year we see these quotas in our relations,” he said.

    As a positive thing Andrei Yevdochenko said the quotas are quite large and are at last year’s level. “Last year we didn’t exhaust the quotas. In most cases we used up only 10% of a quota. Actually over the last few years these quotas have not been restraining our light industry,” said the Deputy Foreign Minister.

    The European Union decided to set the standalone quotas on Belarusian textiles together with the recognition of the common customs tariff of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. “It was the first formal international recognition of the G3 Customs Union. All the parties were pleased with the decision,” said Andrei Yevdochenko. Trade with the European Union was facilitated for Belarusian economic operators because Belarus’ administration of the textile quotas, licensing and paperwork was removed.

    Belarus to chair Conference on Disarmament on 15 February - 14 March

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ Resident Representative at the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva Mikhail Khvostov will be Chairman of the Conference on Disarmament for a period from 15 February to 15 March, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    A plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament under the Belarusian chairmanship will be opened by Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Igor Petrishenko on 16 February.

    Mikhail Khvostov is authorized to hold plenary sessions and consultations with the member states to make sure the sides reach a compromise so that this negotiating forum could begin substantive work. As Chairman of the Conference on Disarmament, Mikhail Khvostov has put forward an initiative to hold a seminar in Geneva in March. The seminar is dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Non-Proliferation Treaty entry into force.

    The Conference on Disarmament is the only multilateral negotiating forum that deals with the problems of disarmament and arms control on a global scale. Important treaties that maintain the international security, including the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, have been worked out within the Conference.

    Nuclear disarmament, prevention of the arms race in the space, negative security assurances, and prohibition of new weapons of mass destruction are on the agenda of the Conference. Belarus has put forward a relevant resolution banning new weapons of mass destruction within the UN General Assembly.

    In May 2009 the Conference managed to coordinate its calendar that envisaged negotiations over the subject-matter of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and a simultaneous substantive discussion of other topics of the Conference agenda. But the participants of the Conference failed to reach a consensus over the implementation of the calendar. In 2010 the Conference again will have to adopt the calendar in order to provide the proper course of negotiations over the urgent problems of international security and disarmament.

    Belarus joined the Conference on Disarmament in 1996. Belarus chaired the Conference in 2000.

    Task group on death penalty to hold first session 22 February

    From: BelTA
    The first session of the parliamentary task group on death penalty will be held on 22 February, BelTA learnt from Nikolai Samoseiko, chairman of the task group, chairman of the permanent commission for legislation and judicial issues of the House of Representatives, on 16 February.

    The key issue on the agenda will be a draft plan of action of the task group for the next six months. According to the plan, the MPs are set to conduct a thorough analysis of statistical data and court rulings. The MPs are also going to visit the correctional facilities where the convicts serve life sentences.

    The task group is also going to study the law-enforcement practices in Russia and Ukraine. A preliminary agreement has been reached to hold an international workshop on death penalty in Minsk in late March – early April with the participation of PACE deputies.

    The task group is looking for a wide-ranging public discussion on death penalty. The MPs intend to initiate holding press conferences, roundtable discussions, and other mass media events.

    Nikolai Samoseiko suggested that the activities of the task group may result in parliamentary hearings on the use of death penalty in Belarus.

    International association of property managers to be set up in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The international association of property management organizations will be set up in Belarus, BelTA learnt from Galina Polyanskaya, chairperson of the permanent commission for housing policy, construction, trade and privatization of the House of Representatives. Galina Polyanskaya took part in the first meeting of this association on 16 February.

    The association will provide assistance with reforming of the housing and utilities infrastructure of Belarus, improving the housing stock management. The association will be also working on advancing progressive national and international technologies in property management.

    The founders of the association include the inter-industry institute of enhancement of qualifications and retraining of managers of the Belarusian National Technology University, Minsk homeowners association ‘Ochag’, association of homeowners ‘Vitebsk Alternativa’, German central union of property managers (DDIV) and the Housing Initiative for Eastern Europe

    Galina Polyanskaya noted that German experts will talk about the advanced experience in property management at a session of the permanent commission for housing policy, construction, trade and privatization of the House of Representatives on 17 February. Attending the session will also officials of Belarusian utility companies and homeowners associations.

  • Economics...

    Belarus to raise Br2.8 trillion for 60 investment projects in 2010

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is going to raise more than Br2.764 trillion of investments, including more than Br1.406 trillion of foreign investments, to implement 60 major investment projects in 2010, BelTA learnt from the Office of the Council of Ministers.

    In line with Resolution No169 of the Council of Ministers, “On the investment activities in the Republic of Belarus in 2010”, most of the funds will be channeled into the companies of the Ministry of Architecture and Construction (Br790.4 billion), and the Belneftekhim concern (Br422.3 billion).

    On the whole, the document has been designed to reach the projections regarding the employment of capital investments that were outlined by Decree No 595, “On approving the most important parameters of the social and economic development of the Republic of Belarus for 2010” of 7 December 2009. In line with the decree, capital investments are expected to increase by 23%-25% as against 2009. In accordance with Resolution No169, the total amount of capital investments is expected to make up Br60.28 trillion.

    The Council of Ministers has also outlined the list of projects to be implemented with the help of foreign investments in 2010. Foreign capital investments are projected to amount $2.168 billion.

    According to Resolution No169, implementation of 11 events will help meet the growth targets regarding capital investments, foreign investments and investment projects this year. Several priority measures will be carried out to address the issues hampering the inflow of investment in Belarus. For instance, the government is going to compile the list of land plots to be offered to investors, to make proposals on the sale of shares of Belarusian open joint stock companies to strategic investors, to develop the institute of investment agents, create holding companies in Belarus, create more investment incentives for the chiefs of state organizations and organizations with the share of the state for good results in this field.

    The resolution also spells out the targets for ministries, concerns, oblast executive committees and Minsk city hall regarding the annual volume of foreign investments which are necessary to finance investment projects; the targets for the free economic zones regarding the growth of capital investment and the volume of foreign investments to finance investment projects. The volume of bank loans has been identified for the real productions sector in 2010 for innovative activities including with the help of foreign loans.

    A reminder, in 2009 Belarus is set to implement more than 80 most important investment projects.

    Internet regulation decree to liberalize Belarusian communication market

    The Belarusian High-Tech Park expects that the national communication market will be liberalized after the decree on Internet regulation comes into force, HTP Administration Director Valery Tsepkalo told the press on 16 February.

    “We are interested in liberalization of the Internet services and international telephony market and expect it to happen after the Internet regulation decree comes into force,” he said.

    In his words, the HTP Administration had inquired whether HTP resident companies would be able to connect directly to foreign Internet network operators. “We expressed an interest in setting up an independent ISP to connect to foreign networks but we are also working on other options to give our resident companies an independent Internet access,” remarked Valery Tsepkalo.

    The Belarus President signed Decree No 60 “Measures to improve the use of the national segment of the Internet” on 1 February. The document is supposed to protect IT interests of individuals, the general public and the state, to improve the quality of and reduce the cost of Internet services, to ensure further development of the national part of the World Wide Web. The decree will come into force on 1 July 2010.

    Minsk to host Russia-Belarus 2010 Business Forum 18-19 February

    On 18-19 February Minsk will host the Russia-Belarus 2010 Business Forum, Elena Simonchuk, deputy director of the EMAS Belarus company, told a press conference in Minsk on 16 February. EMAS Belarus is one of the organizers of the forum, BelTA has learnt.

    The business forum will be held under the auspices of the House of Moscow in Belarus, the Krasnodar Krai Office in Belarus, the Kunyavsky Business Union of Businessmen and Employers, the Belarus Trade Ministry, other governmental departments and administrations of Russian regions.

    During the forum, Belarusian manufacturers will have talks with Russian retailers. Representatives of Russian retail chains will arrive in Minsk to discuss the supplies of Belarusian goods to Russian stores. Taking part in the forum will be representatives of the biggest Russian trading networks including METRO Cash and Carry, Magnit, Vester, Kvartal, Lenta and Euroros.

    According to Elena Simonchuk, the Russian trading networks show their interest not only in foodstuffs but consumer goods as well.

    During the business forum, famous experts in marketing and sales from Belarus and Russia will give master classes.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Medvedev signs protocol on duty-free oil supplies to Belarus

    From: Xinua
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law on Monday a protocol on duty-free oil deliveries to Belarus after a bitter dispute between the two former Soviet neighbors, the Kremlin said.

    Russia and Belarus signed in late January a package of documents, including amendments to an agreement on crude oil deliveries to Belarus, to end a month-long standoff that raised concerns over potential supply cuts to Belarus and the European Union.

    Under the new deals, Minsk will receive 6.3 million tons of oil duty-free this year, but the volume could increase later in accordance with the country's economic growth. The two sides also agreed to raise the tariffs for oil in transit by 11 percent this year.

    Belarus imported about 20 million tons of Russian oil last year at only 35.6 percent of the crude export duty. The transit country consumes about 6.3 million tons of the Russian oil with the rest processed and pumped to the West.

    Belarus sought a similar discount for 2010 but failed to strike a new agreement with Russia before the previous accord expired at the end of last December.

    Russia had disputes with ex-Soviet republics over energy prices in recent years. The West accuses Russia of using its vast resources as a political tool, while Moscow says it simply wants to bring energy prices and transit rates to market levels.

    Abkhazia wants into the Russian-Belarusian Union

    Abkhazia "plans to join" the Union State of Russia and Belarus, as well as to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    "Abkhazia is set to have a dialogue with all countries in the region. But the main and only strategic ally of ours is Russia, - said the leader of the puppet regime of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh when speaking in Moscow before the students of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations). - Politics of Abkhazia on this question is determined not even by its president but it was decided by our grandfathers. Our feelings in relations with Russia have not changed after the recognition of our independence".

    He also indicated that he would like to see his country in many international organizations, but above all in the abovementioned the Union State and the Customs Union. "Union State is the first step. We are anxiously watching the situation in Ukraine, are having a dialogue with Belarus in the expectation that it recognizes our statehood, and in the end, it will be easier for us to join the Union State," said the leader of the separatists.

    According to Sergei Bagapsh, the next step should be accession of the republic to the Customs Union.

    Belarus police break up pro-Polish protest

    From: Reuters
    Belarussian police on Tuesday dispersed an opposition rally and detained about 20 protesters expressing solidarity with dozens of ethnic Polish activists detained the day before.

    The demonstration in central Minsk had only just started when riot police in combat gear moved in to grab protesters as a female demonstrator tried to unfurl a poster, a Reuters photographer reported from the scene.

    Several opposition protesters had been detained before the rally which was banned by the authorities.

    Belarus's European Union neighbour Poland on Monday condemned the detention of about 40 ethnic Polish activists, days after Poland recalled its envoy in protest at an earlier crackdown. [ID:nLDE61E1PF]

    Tensions have periodically erupted between Minsk and Warsaw over Belarus's treatment of its large Polish minority, which numbers some 400,000 people in a country of 10 million.

    Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski on Monday urged Belarus "to return from this bad path" and called on the EU to put pressure on Belarus.

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled his ex-Soviet nation with an iron hand since 1994, has been wooing the EU as ties with close ally Russia soured over energy prices and other issues.

    Cuba and Belarus to Strengthen Bilateral Cooperation

    From: Cuba News
    An increase in the promotion of markets was among the issues
    analyzed by Vasily V. Romanov, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Belarus, and Alfredo Nieves, Cuban ambassador to that nation.

    The top officials, who met in Minsk, acknowledged the increase of bilateral cooperation over the last few years, while Romanov called to make a joint effort for the development of new projects and stronger economic and commercial relations.

    The need of increasing the organization of business missions contributing to the
    development bilateral commercial bonds was assessed during the meeting, the Prensa Latina news agency reports.

    Nieves highlighted that the island is willing to increase exports to Belarus, not only in terms of areas of traditional sectors but also in others now developing, like biotechnology, the medical and pharmaceutical industries, and information technologies.

    According to the source, the two parties coincided in that current relations between their countries are excellent, with respect to both diplomatic and governmental bonds.

  • From the Opposition...

    Lukashenka’s answer to Sikorski

    From: Charter '97
    Belarusian authorities have answered to generous proposals of Poland very quickly, by new repressions against the Union of Poles.

    We remind that on February 15 in Valozhyn the first session of the court in the case of leader of Ivyanets branch of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Tereza Sobal, took place. The head of the UPB is charged with seizure of the local Polish House. The suit against Sobal was filed by the leader of the local branch of the pro-regime Union of Poles Stanislau Syamashka (Stanislaw Siemaszko).

    About 40 activists of the Union of Poles were detained in different parts of Belarus. They were on the way to the court of Valozhyn district to support Tereza Sobal. People who managed to get to Valozhyn, were not allowed entering the court room, which for some unknown reason was held at the territory of a military base. Opposition activists and journalists were arrested and beaten up.

    Among others, police detained the leadership of the Union of Poles in Belarus headed by Andzelika Borys.

    Borys was fined 30 basic units (Br1 mln 50 thousand), representatives of the organisation’s leadership Andrzej Poczobut, Ihar Bantser (Igor Bancer) and Myachyslau Yaskevich (Mieczyslaw Jaskiewicz) were sentenced to 5 days of detention for staging a rally in support of Ivyanets branch of the UPB in Hrodna on February 10.

    On February 11-12 Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhei Martynau visited Poland. He was given a letter for Alyaksandr Lukashenka in which the Polish side informed what could be done for Belarus in case crackdown on the Polish minority in Belarus would be stopped. Among other things, support for Belarus in the issue of receiving a new IMF loan, lifting visa sanctions, launching part of the Eastern Partnership programs in Belarus, and even Belarus’ joining the Baltic States’ Council as a full member were discussed. In case repressions continue Poland promised to impose sanctions.

    It looks as stepping up repressions against the Union of Poles has become Lukashenka’s answer to Sikorski.

    Election campaign: numbers and tendencies of the last week

    From: Viasna
    The week started with sizing up the results of forming of the constituency commissions on elections to the oblast Soviets of Deputies and the Minsk city Soviet of Deputies and holding the first sittings of these commissions. During the week the information on dismissals of claims against non-inclusion of nominees in territorial commissions was summed up. Simultaneously, political parties lodged with courts new complaints – against non-inclusion of their nominees to constituency election commissions, and the local authorities issued rulings on determining the places banned for picketing on collection of signatures in support of pretenders to candidates.

    Formation of constituency commissions: numbers and assessment

    According to the time schedule, on 8 February the forming of the constituency commissions on elections to the oblast Soviets of Deputies and the Minsk city Soviet of Deputies came to an end. According to the official information, 4 542 persons were included in 367 constituency commissions, 828 (18,2%) of them represent working collectives, 1 955 (43%) – civil associations, 301 (6,7%) – political parties and 1 457 (32,1%) were nominated through collection of electors’ signatures in their support.

    Representatives of the ‘state NGOs’ Belaya Rus (319) and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRSM) (332) were included almost in all election commissions. 218 members of the commissions represent the Belarusian Union of Women, 225, the Belarusian civil association of veterans and 701 – the Federation of the Trade Unions of Belarus (the official, pro-regime trade union federation).

    What concerns political parties, 175 persons represent the Communist Party of Belarus, 19 – the Belarusian Agrarian Party, 16 – the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party, 12 – the Republican Party of Labor and Justice, 12 – the Social Democratic Party of People’s Agreement. Opposition parties received 72 seats in the commissions: 48 – the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World, 14 – the United Civil Party, 6 – the Belarusian Popular Front Party, 3 – the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada and 1 – the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada.

    Commenting on the nomination of candidates by parties, Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, stated that parties demonstrated a greater activity not only in Minsk, but on the whole territory of Belarus, compared to the previous stage: ‘Political parties nominated 568 representatives, which constitutes 8,5% from the total number of nominees, whereas only 149 persons (1,1% from the total number of nominees) were nominated to the territorial commissions’. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, the CEC Chairperson, said: ‘We haven’t seen such activity among parties for a long time already. Some 8-9 parties participated in the latest parliamentary elections, whereas 13 parties attempted to take part in the present elections, though not of them proved to be ready to it.’

    What concerns the assessment of the results of the formation of constituency commissions by political parties – most of them don’t see a significant liberalization of the electoral process. Anatol Liabedzka, Chairperson of the United Civil Party, said that the UCP nominated a ‘test number’ of representatives to the constituency commissions, and only ¼ of them were included. In his interview with RFE/RL the politician stated that the authorities again ignored the people who were at all points fit for working in election commissions.

    Viktar Sazonau, Chairperson of the Hrodna oblast organization of the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada, expressed the opinion that ‘several people were included to prevent the parties from declaring the refusal to participate in the elections, though we are ready to do it’.

    The BPF Party assessed with a cautious optimism the results of formation of the constituency commissions in Minsk, where 6 out of 18 representatives were included in the commissions (2 of them were nominated from the BPF Party and 4 – from the civil association Belarusian Popular Front Adradzhenne). Kanstantsin Smolikau, Chairperson of the Vitsebsk oblast organization of the BPF, characterized the results of this stage of the election campaign as a ‘step in the right direction’ and said that in general the oblast BPF organization was satisfied with the inclusion of 4 out of 15 members in the constituency election commissions. ‘The inclusion of all 15 representatives of our organization would be an ideal variant for us. We should be realists, though: during the previous election campaign we didn’t have a single representative in the territorial and constituency election commissions,’ commented Mr. Smolikau.

    Members of the Belarusian Party of United Leftists Fair World received the largest number of seats of all opposition parties – 48, four of them in Minsk. Valer Ukhnaliou, Deputy Chairperson of the party, considers that this number is insufficient, but better than zero, as the party didn’t have a single representative in the election commissions during the previous elections to the local Soviets of Deputies.
  • Note: For the complete text of this article, please click HERE

  • Russia...

    U.S. women crush Russia in hockey, 13-0

    From: LA Times
    While its closest rival is dismantling opponents by a combined 27 goals in two games over on the other side of the bracket, the United States women's hockey team is wreaking havoc in its own group.

    The U.S. hammered hapless Russia, 13-0, on Tuesday in preliminary-round action at UBC Thunderbird Arena.

    The bigger, faster and more experienced U.S. squashed Russia to improve to 2-0 in the tournament and has now outscored foes, 25-1, in the process. Team Canada, the other favorite to bring home gold in the Olympic Games, was off Tuesday but won its first two games by a combined score of 28-1.

    Against Russia, the U.S. got three goals and an assist from Jenny Potter, two goals and three assists from Natalie Darwitz and a seven-save shutout from goaltender Jessie Vetter as it dominated play from the outset.

    Hilary Knight added four assists and Kelli Stack had a goal and three assists.

    "Canada can look at our scores and come to the same conclusion," Darwitz said. "We need to worry about ourselves. We have a corner of our eye on them but at the same time we're looking forward, straight ahead at our task at hand. That's what we're going to do until the game says Canada vs. USA."

    The U.S. held a 5-0 lead after one period and after tacking on seven scores in the second eased off the gas and added a goal in the third. It held a 34-7 shot advantage and Vetter was rarely tested.

    In the third, the crowd was cheering Russia every time it entered the U.S. zone, urging it to score at least once for a moral victory.

    The closest it came to getting on the scoreboard was when Alexandra Kapustina fired wide on a chance with an open net.

    The United States took only two shots in the final period.

    "It's not about running up the score," said Potter, who became the first women's player in Olympic history to record two hat tricks in the same Games. "It's about winning the gold.

    "This is great for our team. You can always learn something from every game. We stayed in the present moment, which is exactly what we want to do. We're not looking forward or looking back."

    The U.S., which scored an Olympic-record seven power-play goals and added two short-handed scores, will turn its attention to playing Finland on Thursday while trying not to focus on a possible showdown with Canada. "Our focus is on our team and what we want to accomplish," Potter said. "Right now we beat Russia and we're moving on to Finland."

    Premier Congratulates Winner of Ukraine Vote

    From: New York Times
    Ukraine's outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko speaks during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010.
    Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia congratulated Viktor F. Yanukovich on Monday for winning Ukraine’s presidential election, well after many other world leaders had done so. But Mr. Putin may have had his reasons for delaying. In 2004, he was accused of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs by making a similar call to Mr. Yanukovich while the presidential election results were still being contested. Mr. Yanukovich’s campaign was accused of fraud, the election was thrown out and the Orange Revolution happened. This time, Mr. Putin waited until Mr. Yanukovich’s victory was certified.

    Ukraine's outgoing president warns of turn East

    In a related AP story, Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko said Tuesday the policies of his newly elected successor risk turning Ukraine back into a Kremlin vassal state.

    Yushchenko made the statements, some of his harshest against President-elect Viktor Yanukovych, at a news conference nine days before he is due hand over power.

    "The victory of Yanukovych is a Kremlin project. It is a policy of deep dependence on Russia," Yushchenko said.

    Yushchenko was the leader of mass street protests in 2004 against Yanukovych's Kremlin-backed election victory that year. Dubbed the Orange Revolution, those demonstrations urged the Supreme Court to overturn Yanukovych's fraudulent win and call for a revote, which Yushchenko won.

    Since then, Yanukovych has capitalized on Yushchenko's ineffectual rule, the slow progress of European integration, and the economic meltdown of the past year. He won the presidential ballot Feb. 7 against the heroine of the Orange Revolution, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

    Yushchenko saved particular venom for Yanukovych's plans to give Russia a stake in managing Ukraine's natural gas pipelines and to extend the lease Russia has on a Black Sea naval base.

    "It is painful and demeaning for me to hear these pledges. It discredits us as a nation, as Ukrainians," Yushchenko told a sparsely attended briefing, appearing dejected but calm.

    Yushchenko has fought bitterly to kick out Russia's Black Sea fleet, which he sees as a threatening military presence on Ukrainian soil. He called Yanukovych's pledge to allow the fleet to stay a "policy of being colonized."

    In a statement, Yanukovych responded to Yushchenko's attack with a pledge to pursue a balanced and pragmatic foreign policy.

    "I can only say one thing to anyone who expects my presidency to weaken Ukraine — don't count on it," Yanukovych said.

    EBay adds new Europe, Russia platform to spur buying

    From: Reuters
    EBay Inc (EBAY.O) will launch a new online retail platform in five European countries and Russia by the end of March, spurring cross-border transactions and allowing buyers to navigate purchases in their native languages.

    The move comes as eBay seeks to increase transactions on its sites by making them more user-friendly and reliable. It has been emphasizing fixed-price goods, rather than auctions, to encourage more buyers.

    Online shoppers in Russia, Greece, the Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark and Sweden will now be able to buy online in their native tongues. Those countries were chosen based on demand, eBay said.

    The company will also offer PayPal, its online payments system, to these customers to facilitate transactions across borders.

    "EBay continues to look at ways to provide online consumers with access to the wide range of products on sale on eBay, even if there is no eBay platform in their market," the e-commerce company said in a statement.

    Vsevolod Denisov from the Edelman public relations agency told Reuters the Russian-language interface would be launched by mid- or late-March.

    Previously, consumers in those six countries had to navigate eBay's branded marketplaces in a different language than their own. EBay currently operates some 20 eBay-branded marketplaces.

    Under the new platform, buyers will only be allowed to purchase fixed-price items, as opposed to those sold in an auctions format.

    In Russia, competition is limited, due to the poorly developed and highly fragmented market. Ebay will compete with Russia's Internet auction site which serves around 200,000 people a day, offering more than 5 million items on sale.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Rapid rise in suicides in Poland

    From: The News
    Last year saw a record number of suicides in Poland.

    A total of 4,839 men tried to kill themselves, 3,739 succeeded. Women are less prone to take their own life than men. Last year, 645 of them committed suicide.

    The suicide rate is highest among the unemployed, people with a drinking problem or mental disorders and victims of violence at home, police statistics show. Specialists are worried by a rise in suicides among children. Last year, 26 kids below 15 years of age committed suicide, compared with nineteen in 2008.

    There is no comprehensive suicide prevention program in place in Poland. “People in a crisis situation have little chance of getting professional help. Suicides can be prevented, the snag is they are still regarded as a taboo,” says Professor Brunon Holyst, President of the Polish Suicide Study Society.

    “People who think of ending it all tend to look for help on the web. There, they come across pages with instructions on how to commit suicide faster than they find professional advice,” says Holyst.

    Football hooligans arrested

    From: NPE
    Poznan police have arrested a large number of hooligans connected with organising pitched battles between supporters of various football teams, and at the same time have uncovered evidence of drug-dealing and organised crime.

    Sixteen people were arrested in raids carried out by officers of the Central Investigative Office (CBS) following an investigation into the activities of a group of football hooligans, in particular two coordinated fights that took place between the supposed supporters of Lech Poznan and followers of teams from Lubin and Gdansk. Investigations lasting over two years revealed that at times the group took part in such fights day after day. In the raid police found film and photos from these battles, and a wide range of weapons, including machetes, axes, swords, various bludgeons and even a pistol.

    Additionally some members of the group were charged with the sale of 90,000 ecstasy tablets and 20kg of marihuana. In total fifty people have been charged so far, some of whom face up to twelve years in prison.

    Hooligan girls beat friend, no one cares

    From: NPE
    Police in Gorzow reported on a hooligan incident in which four 15-year-old girls assaulted one of their colleagues in broad daylight outside one of the city’s largest shopping malls, and none of the passers by reacted.

    The attack took place this Tuesday afternoon when the victim left school followed by two of her attackers, who had planned the whole incident. As their target got to the centre of town, they were joined by two friends of theirs from another school. In the nasty assault that followed outside the Askana mall, the girl was held by two girls while the other two took turns at kicking her and punching her in the face.

    Slawomir Konieczny, Gorzow police’s press officer, told reporters from Gazeta Gorzow, “After all, this didn’t happen in the middle of a forest, but by the largest mall in town, on a busy street, 80m from the school. What would people have said if things had turned out any worse?” The case is being investigated by officers from Gorzow police’s new Division of Adolescent Pathology who are noting an increase in such attacks, specifically in attacks by young girls.

    Polish Thugs Rampage

    From: NPE
    Police made thirteen arrests after Polish fans rioted in Prague before last Saturday’s 2-0 loss against the Czech Republic.

    Thousands had made the journey south in the vain hope that Poland could produce a miracle and qualify for South Africa 2010, though second half goals from Tomas Necid and Jaroslav Plasil were enough to put a spoiler on Polish expectations. The atmosphere had already been soured by this point however, and tabloid predictions of crowd trouble proved correct as Polish thugs entered running battles with local cops.

    Fireworks and flares were hurled as riot police struggled to contain the aggro, with Polish fans going some distance in cementing their growing reputation as Europe’s biggest morons. Czech police had mounted a two month security operation leading up to the game, with one insider claiming, ‘From a safety point of view, this is the most demanding match our team has seen in years’. Earlier in the year Polish fans hit headlines after rioting in Belfast during their game with Northern Ireland.

  • Sport...

    Finland-Belarus Preview

    From: Yahoo Sports
    Konstantin Koltsov
    With balanced scoring and seemingly unbeatable goaltending, Finland finally appeared to emerge as a legitimate Olympic hockey power during the 2006 Olympics.

    However, it settled for silver while a longtime rival had gold draped around their necks.

    Finland tries again for that elusive first gold as it opens its 2010 Olympic schedule Wednesday against a banged-up Belarus team.

    Coming into play four years ago in Turin, not too much was expected from the Finns as they were in a grouping that included Canada and the Czech Republic. Instead, they won all five games in the preliminary round by a 19-2 margin.

    Finland then beat the United States and blanked Russia in the playoff round before falling 3-2 in an all-Nordic final to Sweden. Still, Finland had five of the top seven scorers in the tournament and a goaltender who was named MVP.

    For Finland to finally get the gold, it will look to a pair of players from Anaheim in Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, who were tied for the scoring lead in 2006 with 11 points each.

    Now 39, Selanne still has scoring skills - he’s tallied 17 goals in 37 games with the Ducks - but has missed a large chunk of the season with a broken hand and jaw. Koivu, playing his first season with Anaheim after 13 in Montreal, has 12 goals and 33 points despite sitting out nine games with a variety of injuries.

    Other players returning from 2006 include Ville Peltonen, Olli Jokinen and Jere Lehtinen.

    Peltonen, now playing in Russia after eight NHL seasons, had nine points in Turin. Jokinen, recently acquired by the New York Rangers, and Lehtinen, now in his 14th season with Dallas, each had eight points.

    A key to the Finns’ success in Turin will be riding the bench much of the time in Vancouver. Antero Niittymaki recorded three shutouts in six games en route to MVP honors.

    This time, the Tampa Bay goaltender will be backing up fellow NHL players Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota and Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary.

    Kiprusoff (27-19-9, 2.18 goals-against average, three shutouts) was picked to play in Turin, but he sat out with an injury. The 2006 Vezina Trophy winner led the NHL last season with 45 wins and 76 games played, but he struggled again in the playoffs as the Flames were eliminated in the opening round for the fourth straight season.

    Backstrom set career-highs with 37 wins and eight shutouts last season under coach Jacques Lemaire and his defense-oriented system. This season under new bench boss Todd Richards, the Helsinki native has just 23 wins and one shutout.

    Backstrom was also selected to play in Turin but didn’t see any action.

    Coach Jukka Jalonen said Tuesday that Kiprusoff will start against Belarus and Backstrom will play Friday against Germany.

    “From then on, the plan is that Kiprusoff is playing,” Jalonen said.

    Finland’s first test comes against a team that’s short-handed but has shown the ability to surprise. In 2002 at Salt Lake, Belarus finished atop its group and stunned Sweden in the quarterfinals before being routed by Canada.

    After failing to qualify among the top 12 in Italy, Belarus can expect difficulty trying to duplicate its success from eight years ago as Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn and Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski were missing when final rosters were submitted Monday.

    Kostitsyn, who had 12 goals and 25 points in 40 games with the Canadiens, hasn’t played since undergoing knee surgery Jan. 8. Meanwhile, the last-place Maple Leafs have been without Grabovski (42 games, seven goals, 18 assists) since Jan. 3 due to a broken left wrist.

    Defenseman Ruslan Salei, who’s missed 55 games with Colorado this season following back surgery, was on the final roster.

    To provide offense, new coach Mikhail Zakharov may look to Sergei Kostitsyn, Andrei’s younger brother and Canadiens teammate. Sergei Kostitsyn has split time between Montreal (30 games, 2 goals, 8 assists) and its top affiliate in Hamilton, Ontario (16 games, 4 goals, 9 assists).

    Another player to watch is Konstantin Koltsov, a former first-round pick of Pittsburgh in 1999 currently playing in Russia.

    Foreman, Cotto could be headed to Yankee Stadium

    From: AP
    Jewish boxing champion Yuri Foreman hopes to defend his title at Yankee Stadium in June — unless a bar mitzvah gets in the way.

    The 154-pound champion would fight former welterweight titleholder Miguel Cotto on June 5 at the ballpark in the Bronx, promoter Bob Arum told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Arum has been hoping to bring a fight to Yankee Stadium for years.

    "The Yankees want to make a deal, we know we can make a deal, they're just working through a problem at Yankee Stadium," Arum said. "But you wouldn't believe it if I told you."

    He's not kidding.

    "They've leased out some lounges for this bar mitzvah and part of the deal was for a half hour or so, they could use the big screen in center field to show pictures and all that sort of stuff," Arum said, laughing. "Obviously you can't do that if there's fights going on."

    Ramping up the irony, Foreman is studying to become a rabbi.

    Arum said he's hopeful that something can be worked out, perhaps by giving the families holding the bar mitzvah credentials for the fight. If the conflict can't be resolved, Foreman would defend his WBA junior middleweight belt on June 12 at Madison Square Garden — the eve of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City.

    Top Rank president Todd duBoef has said that he has the arena, where Cotto has fought some of his most thrilling bouts, on hold for that date.

    Either way, the fight on a midsummer Saturday night creates another logistical problem. The Jewish sabbath does not officially end until sundown.

    "Because of the sabbath ending late, we would announce that the main event would not start until after 11:30 p.m.," said Arum, himself a devout Jew. "There's a lot of great things we would have to do around it."

    Foreman, a New York-based native of Belarus, would be making the first defense of the title he won from Daniel Santos on the undercard of Cotto's loss to Manny Pacquiao last fall.

    While he doesn't have tremendous name recognition, Foreman (28-0) does have substantial backing from the large Jewish population that makes up the New York metropolitan area.

    "The magnitude of this event cannot be overstated," said Foreman's confidant, Dovid Efune. "It may be the biggest Jewish sporting event of all time, certainly since David fought Goliath."

    While the logistics of holding a fight in Yankee Stadium are unclear, Arum hasn't shied away from staging fights in massive venues. He promoted the final bout at the old Yankee Stadium across the street when Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton on Sept. 28, 1976, a fight remembered more for the chaos caused by a police strike than anything else.

    On March 13, Arum is taking Pacquiao's title defense against Joshua Clottey to the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium just outside Dallas. The facility will be configured for about 40,000 fans, although Top Rank is hopeful that up to 70,000 show up the night of the fight.

    Arum has approached the Yankees several times over the past 30 years about staging another event at the stadium, but George Steinbrenner and club brass had always been tepid about erecting a ring and seating on the immaculate infield grass. Scheduling also created problems because a fight would have to be staged when the team is on the road.

    All of those concerns seem to be washing away as the new leadership of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner work to maximize revenue from the luxurious ballpark.

    Last September, a makeshift dais was set up along the first base line for a news conference to announce the Pacquiao-Cotto fight, which was ultimately held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost joked at the time that Arum should bring a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the stadium.

    The cast of characters may be different, but Trost could be getting his wish for a fight.

    "I'm very excited to defend my title in New York, which is the Jewish capital of the Diaspora," Foreman said in a statement. "Having the fight in Yankee Stadium would be the icing on the cake, so please God it is finalized."

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus, Lithuania to stage joint theatre performances

    From: BelTA
    The National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus and the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre are planning to stage joint performances, BelTA learnt from the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus.

    Such performances are envisaged by the memorandum on bilateral cooperation between the National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus and the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre. The memorandum has been signed by Director General of the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus Vladimir Gridyushko and his Lithuanian counterpart Kevisas Gintautas. The two theatres are going to exchange their performances, soloists, and performing groups and hold master-classes. The theatre experts (bandmasters, stage managers, designers and lighting designers and advertising experts) are also expected to share their experience.

    The spokesperson for the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus added that the Belarusian theatre had previously reached agreements on cooperation with the Latvian National Opera. The Belarusian soloists will be able to partake in new theatre shows of the Latvian National Opera. Apart from that, the performances of the Latvian National Opera are planned to be staged at the National Academic Grand Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus. A Latvian performance Don Juan is supposed to be shown at the Christmas Opera festival in Minsk in December 2010. The experts on vocal techniques of the Latvian National Opera are also planning to hold master-classes at the Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus.

    Performers from four countries ready to represent Belarus at Eurovision 2010

    Apart from Belarusian singers, performers from Spain, Iceland, Ireland and Poland have submitted their applications to represent Belarus at the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company.

    The deadline for submitting applications is 15 February.

    The Belarusian State Television and Radio Company will approve a focus group who will choose and announce Belarus’ representative at the Eurovision Song Contest by 10 March. The focus group will also select an alternative performer who will substitute the official representative in case he/she is unable to participate.

    The 2010 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Oslo (Norway) on 25-29 May. The Belarusian singer will perform in the first semifinals on 25 May. Taking part in the 55th international competition will be 39 countries. The finals will take place on 29 May.

  • Endnote...

    Poland at crossroads with Belarus

    From: The News
    ‘We are standing at a crossroads,’ said foreign affairs official Jaroslaw Bratkiewicz about Poland’s current policy towards Belarus.

    Reporting on the present situation in the neighbouring country following the recent repressions against the local Polish community, the head of the Ministry’s eastern department has stressed that the next step is up to authorities in Belarus.

    Talking to the senatorial committee for the affairs of the Polish communities abroad, Bratkiewicz said it was the Belarusian authorities that had to resolve whether they would allow for a pluralistic activity of minority organizations. Otherwise, Poland will have to take action that would have a negative impact on the relations of Belarus with the Western world.

    Maciej Szymanski, heading the Ministry’s Department of Cooperation with the Polish Diaspora, has assured the senators that Poland is ready to take steps, which they would rather, nonetheless, avoid.

    “They received a list of issues in which Poland had, so far, voluntarily supported Belarus. Our country was its promoter on the political arena in Europe. And now Poland may either choose to refrain from continuing these efforts, to hinder or even torpedo them. The decision is up to Belarus, as none of these initiatives were unconditionally guaranteed to the country,” said Szymanski.

    A court trial concerning the Polish House in Ivyenets continues today. Members of the Union of Poles in Belarus, unrecognized by Lukashenko’s regime, have been recently expelled from the facility. The outcome of the trial will show which route the Belarusian authorities have chosen to pursue, said Maciej Szymanski.

    The President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek said yesterday that, in his view, EU’s parliament should adopt a resolution on the issue.

    "To us, it is very significant that the European Union acknowledges the repression against national minorities, predominantly the Polish one at this moment, but also other groups, such as non-governmental organizations or the democratic opposition, so that the European Union declares them impermissible,” stated Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

    Meanwhile, 37 out of 40 Polish activists who were detained in Belarus on Monday have been freed.