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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Belarus, Ukraine partnership, UPB dispute, EurAsEC, EU parliament, Aerials gold, WTO Concerns; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #491

    Belarus, Ukraine enter new phase in strategic partnership

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko and Viktor Yanukovych on 25 February
    Belarus and Ukraine are entering a new stage in their strategic partnership. The statement was made at a meeting between Presidents of the two countries Alexander Lukashenko and Viktor Yanukovych on 25 February, after Lukashenko attended the inauguration ceremony for the President-elect. Over 100 foreign delegations arrived in Kyiv for the inauguration ceremony.

    The new president of Ukraine already signed the first decree to abolish the Secretariat of the President of Ukraine and institute the Presidential Administration instead. He appointed Sergei Levochkin head of the Presidential Administration and instructed him to draft regulations on the administration. 38-year-old Levochkin is a deputy of the Ukrainian Rada of the 6th convocation and is deputy head of the Party of Regions.

    Alexander Lukashenko recalled his last meeting with Viktor Yanukovych in Minsk. “We discussed a lot then. And we have been able to implement all the agreements we have reached,” the Belarusian leader stressed. “We find it very important that there are policy-makers in Ukraine who stand ready to work hard towards the progress of Ukraine,” Alexander Lukashenko emphasized. “We need no divisions in the East, West or South,” the President of Belarus added.

    Viktor Yanukovych, on his part, noted that the first strategic steps were made during the last meeting, and confirmed that the bilateral action plan has been in progress throughout these years. “Our relations have entered a new phase and I am ready to consider jointly all strategic cooperation areas, work together with you for the benefit of the economies and people of the two countries,” the President of Ukraine said.

    Lukashenko thanks Yushchenko for support in West

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko thanked Viktor Yushchenko for supporting Belarus in the West.

    “The goal of my arrival is to thank you for everything you have done during your presidency. It was sincere support for the Belarusian nation and the state,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “Whatever events the Ukrainian delegation may have participated in, regardless of the level of negotiations in Europe or the USA, I absolutely precisely knew about your no-nonsense support for Belarus. I am deeply thankful for that,” he added.

    “As I met with Ukraine’s incumbent president Viktor Yanukovich, I said that Viktor Yushchenko had done a lot for Belarus in the Western direction and we would very much like the policy to continue. Viktor Yanukovich promised me that,” said the Belarusian head of state.

    Evaluating the Ukrainian election campaign, Alexander Lukashenko remarked that the change of power had gone very accurately, beautifully and calmly. The Belarus President believes Viktor Yushchenko had a lot to do with it. Alexander Lukashenko is convinced that the ideas of Ukraine’s independence and statehood that Viktor Yushchenko had been carrying have grown deeper.

    Viktor Yushchenko also remarked that the elections in Ukraine had been honest and democratic, the country has learnt to transfer power calmly. He also pointed out the advanced level of the bilateral relations and their productiveness.

    CE to enhance cooperation with Belarus

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with Micheline Calmy-Rey, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation, in Kyiv on 25 February.

    As Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe Micheline Calmy-Rey has set a goal to strengthen the CE-Belarus cooperation.

    The President of Belarus confirmed his readiness to answer all the questions and discuss the Belarus-EU relations.

    Speaking on the bilateral contacts between Belarus and Switzerland, Alexander Lukashenko said that a big potential for cooperation between the two countries is far from being fulfilled. “I wouldn’t say that we have a lot of problems in relations with Switzerland. On the contrary, these relations have been good recently. In addition, I am ready to discuss the avenues of our cooperation with you,” said the Belarusian President.

    Alexander Lukashenko took the opportunity and invited Micheline Calmy-Rey to travel to Minsk for detailed talks over the problems of Belarus-EU relations. “If you have an opportunity, I will welcome you in Minsk to continue our conversation,” said the President of Belarus.

    Micheline Calmy-Rey, in turn, agreed that there are no problems in the Belarusian-Swiss relations, and the two countries can achieve even more.

    President of Belarus congratulates Alexei Grishin on Olympic gold

    President Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated Belarusian aerial jumper Alexei Grishin on winning Belarus’s first gold medal at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “We are proud of you. You have passed the most challenging sports examination, displaying exceptional skills and talent,” said the President in his letter of congratulation to Alexei Grishin.

    Alexei Grishin scored a combined total of 248.41 points in his two jumps (120.58+127.83).

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Lukashenko expects UPB dispute to be resolved

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes that the dispute around the Union of Poles in Belarus will be successfully resolved. He confirmed his views in Kyiv on 25 February.

    “You should keep in mind that all the 200,000 people of Polish origin, or even more, are our Poles and my voters. I am responsible for them and I will do my best to make them feel good in Belarus,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    “It is big politics. If the Belarusian Poles feel good, Poland will believe that Belarus is a nice place to live,” he added. The head of state assured that as the Belarus President he will resolve all problems of Belarusian Poles. Asked about the operation of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko said that it will exist as long as it deems itself useful.

    Speaking about Polish prisoners, the President said that more than 40,000 people are held in detention facilities and the number of Poles there is much lower than the number of other nationalities. “Don’t push this problem. Those, who are in detention facilities, wanted it that way because they needed a trump card, pretence that they are harassed. But we will find a common ground with them, too,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    The head of state assured one more time that he will do his best so that Belarusian Poles would live as well as Poles do in Poland.

    Speaking about overall Belarus-EU relations, Alexander Lukashenko said: “Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland are in Europe and Europe cannot do without Belarus, Ukraine and Poland. Hence we are destined to come to terms and live together”.

    Belarus and Poland can handle any problems in relations

    Belarus and Poland can resolve any problems in their relations, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Poland Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski in Kyiv on 25 February.

    “I would like to make it clear that there are no problems between Belarus and Poland. I would like to use it as the starting point. If there is some misunderstanding, no other name fits, we can handle it,” stressed the Belarusian head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko remarked that the two countries have an excellent record of relations and have laid down a good foundation for the future. “We have a lot of good things in relations, especially in economy, culture, other areas of cooperation. Although Poland is a member of the European Union and has its obligations, we have not destroyed any of the cooperation avenues,” said the Belarus President. He also added that Polish businessmen and politicians had contacted him often and all disputes had been resolved to the benefit of both parties. “We have many things in common and we should develop them. Doing it, we will resolve the issues that we have now. We can do it,” the President is convinced.

    “In our relations there are matters where we see Poland’s genuine interest in Belarus’ being a powerful modern independent state. It is the key thing. Keeping it in mind, we are capable of resolving any problems,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. He added that “these problems have been imposed on us”.

    “Let’s get moving in the right direction. You won’t regret it,” the Belarusian head of state assured the Polish side.

    Radoslaw Sikorski confirmed Poland’s intention to resolve all misunderstandings in Belarus-Poland relations. He believes that the relations between the two countries could be much better.

    Moscow to host sessions of EurAsEC Integration Committee, Customs Union Commission

    From: BelTA
    Sessions of the EurAsEC Integration Committee and the Customs Union Commission will take place in Moscow on 26 February, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry.

    The Belarusian delegation will be led by Vice Premier, member of the Customs Union Commission Andrei Kobyakov. The sides will discuss the issues related to the formation of the Customs Union and the Single Economic Area, consider draft agreements on the international leasing of the agricultural equipment, turnover of the perishable vegetables, new wording of the convention of EurAsEC privileges and immunities of 31 May 2001.

    The participants of the session will discuss the cooperation in migration, customs, technical regulations, sanitary, veterinary and phyto-sanitary measures.

    The participants of the session will also consider the process of the implementation of the plan on redeploying the state control on the Customs Union external border, especially, in the part of the Belarusian-Russian and Kazakh-Russian borders, draft documents on application of hygiene and phyto-sanitary measures, draft plan of the activity of the Customs Statistics Center of the Secretariat of the Customs Union Commission.

    The sides are expected to coordinate the composition of the Council for Culture of the EurAsEC Integration Committee, take decisions on the organizing and budgetary issues.

    The session of the Customs Union Commission will focus on the draft agreement on the procedures of payment and distribution of import customs duties within the Customs Union, discuss the formation of the Council of Experts in the Customs Union.

    The participants of the session will also consider the development of the draft protocol on the amendments and addenda into the agreement on the Customs Code of the Customs Union, the adjustment of the import customs duties of the single customs tariffs.

    EU parliament delegates to meet with Belarusian MPs in Minsk on 26 February

    From: BelTA
    A delegation of the European Parliament is expected to arrive in Minsk on 25 February, Michal Czaplicki, European Parliament official in charge of escorting the delegates, told BelTA.

    While in Minsk the European MPs are expected to meet with Nina Mazai, Chairperson of the International Affairs and National Security Commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, and Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. The meeting will take place at the National Library on 26 February.

    Apart from that, the members of the European Parliament plan to meet with representatives of Belarus’ Central Election Commission. There are also plans to communicate with Belarusian NGOs and communities of the national minorities that live in Belarus.

    The delegation is led by Bulgarian parliamentarian, head of the European Parliament’s delegation in EuroNest, representative of the socialist faction Kristian Vigenin. The delegation also includes head of the sub-committee on human rights Heidi Hautala (the green faction, Finland), head of the delegation for relations with Belarus Jacek Protasiewicz (the liberal faction, Poland), Lithuanian delegate, rapporteur on Belarus of the Foreign Affairs Justas Paleckis.

    The meeting of the European and Belarusian MPs is expected to focus on the format the Belarusian delegation will participate in EuroNest (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Initiative). Earlier representatives of some European Union bodies said that unlike delegations of other partnering countries only some of the EuroNest seats can be granted to members of the Belarusian parliament. In turn, the Belarusian side made it clear that the format is not acceptable and is discriminatory.

  • Economics...

    About 70,000 foreigners pay for medical services in Belarus in 2009

    From: BelTA
    About 70,000 foreigners received paid medical services in 2009, up 18,200 compared with 2008, Healthcare Minister of Belarus Vasily Zharko said at a session of the Healthcare Ministry on 26 February, BelTA has learnt.

    In 2009, the national healthcare institutions exported medical services worth $14 million, up 21% over 2008. In 2010, the financing of healthcare institutions will be increased through expanding chargeable medical services, in particular the export of services.

    Vasily Zharko underlined that in 2009 the Vitebsk and Mogilev oblasts failed to fulfill the task to increase the volume of chargeable medical services. At the same time, free medical services should not be uncontrollably replaced with paid services.

    The Healthcare Minister informed that in 2009 some Br4 .889 trillion (capital development expenses not included ) was allocated for the development of the healthcare sector or 95.8% of the adjusted annual plan. In 2010, the Ministry refined its focus on the economical use of the budget resources. “Special attention should be attached to the revision of resources, revaluation of priorities and search for hidden reserves,” he said. It is also necessary to develop technologies to replace in-patient treatment, prevent the repetition of laboratory research, etc.

    Belorusneft testing Belarus’ first oil well repair vehicle

    The Belarusian oil concern Belorusneft has started field tests of Belarus’ first mobile oil well repair vehicle with the carrying capacity of 100 tonnes. The testing is in progress at an oil well of the Barsukovskoye oil field, the Belorusneft press service told BelTA.

    The oil well repair vehicle ARS-100 was designed by the Gomel-based company Seismiotekhnika. Belarus used to import such machines. The new vehicle will be used to perform technological operations during well drilling, well development, repairs, lowering and pulling out of pump, compressor and drilling pipes, for handling emergencies. All the necessary equipment is mounted on a five-axle rough-terrain vehicle made by Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant.

    The vehicle will be available for commercial operation in H1 2010.

    This year Seismiotekhnika is expected to make four such vehicles for Belorusneft. Several Western Europe companies have expressed interest in the oil well repair vehicle ARS-100.

    Seismiotekhnika plans to design an oil well repair vehicle with the carrying capacity of 100 tonnes soon. It will boast the largest carrying capacity among such vehicles made in the CIS.

    Seismiotekhnika is part of the Belarusian oil concern Belorusneft. For over 35 years the company has been designing geophysical and oilfield equipment for fuel and energy companies, oil and geophysical surveying companies, machines and equipment for drilling and overhauling wells as well as machines and equipment for seismic exploration and downhole logging.

    Marko, Baldinini team up to make Bravo footwear

    The well-known Italian footwear maker Baldinini has presented 100 models of men’s and women’s footwear from the Autumn/Winter 2011 collection to the Belarusian footwear company Marko for production startup, Marko Director General Nikolai Martynov told BelTA.

    In July-August Marko’s factory San Marko is expected to start manufacturing high-quality leather footwear under Baldinini’s supervision. Before that Belarusian specialists will get on-the-job training in Italy. The Italian company will provide all the patterns and documents for the footwear models.

    According to Nikolai Martynov, a decision had been made together with Baldinini CEO Jimmy Baldinini that San Marko will be able to manufacture elite footwear using the new trademark Bravo. At present the trademark is being registered in Belarus and Russia.

    The Italian and Belarusian companies had also agreed to promote Bravo footwear to the Russian market. Initially the San Marko factory will make about 100,000 pairs of elite footwear per annum and half will be shipped to Russia.

    The Belarusian footwear manufacturer Marko is one of the largest footwear makers in Belarus. The company comprises about ten enterprises, including three footwear factories. In 2009 Marko turned out 3.5 million pairs of footwear, 452,000 more than in 2008. In 2010 the company plans to raise the output up to 4 million. The company exports over half of the make to Russia. Marko was founded in 1991 and employs over 3,000 people.

    Baldinini was founded in the Italian town San Mauro Pascoli in 1910. It offers high-quality leather footwear at medium and top prices for men and women as well as leather accessories. Baldinini products boast an exquisite design and are believed to be some of the most prestigious footwear in Europe and the world. The company’s turnover averages close to €50 million per annum. The company employs over 300 people and exports 80% of the make. It has a monobrand distribution chain in the CIS states and Eastern Europe.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    EU warns Minsk on human rights

    From: RIA Novosti
    President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek
    The president of the European Parliament has said if Belarus wants to benefit from EU support, it has to change its ways with regard to the opposition, NGOs and ethnic minorities, Polish Radio reported Saturday.

    Speaking at a news conference in Opole, southern Poland, Jerzy Buzek said that this applies in particular to the Polish minority, the largest minority ethnic group in Belarus.

    He said a delegation of MEPs, currently in Belarus, is to present a report on Monday.

    He said Belarus needs EU assistance, especially in long-term investment and technology to help the ailing economy, but stressed that such assistance was only possible if Belarus pursued real democratic reform.

    Earlier this month, Belarusian police detained a large group of activists of the Union of Poles.

    On February 17, Polish MPs passed a resolution condemning Belarus' policies toward a Polish minority group in connection with a property dispute.

    A court outside Minsk ruled that the Polish House in Ivenets, located some 60 miles west of the Belarusian capital and claimed by the Belarusian authorities, remain in the ownership of the official Union of Poles in Belarus. The building was seized by the authorities earlier this month.

    The Union of Poles in Belarus was established in 1990 to unite Polish culture and education societies in Belarus. After the Union split in 2005, the part loyal to the government in Minsk was officially recognized, while the unrecognized wing, led by Anzhelika Boris, went into opposition against the authorities.

    Lukashenko meets Sikorski, denies problem with Poles in Belarus

    In a related WBJ story, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has told Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski that there is no problem with the Polish minority in Belarus.

    The two had an unscheduled meeting on Thursday in Kiev and the Polish side had been hoping for a breakthrough that did not come.

    That morning, Mr Sikorski had met with his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Martynov, requesting that authorities in Minsk should legalize both Polish organizations that operate there - including the group led by And?elika Borys, which has been persecuted by the regime, and the sole government-recognized organization led by businessman Stanis?aw Siemaszko.

    The next step was to be the division of property between the two associations, after Belarusian courts recently handed the entire Polish House in Ivenets over to Mr Siemaszko's group, which has no relations with Polish authorities.

    Minister Sikorski presented the same proposals to President Lukashenko, without reaching an agreement. After the meeting, Mr Lukashenko said "The Poles living in Belarus are my Poles, my voters and I will do everything to make their lives good."

    When asked by one journalist about the arrest of workers from Ms Borys's organization, Mr Lukashenko initially replied, with apparent surprise, that nobody had gone to jail. "Well, maybe a few people, but they wanted to go, to show how bad things are here," he added.

    Russia refuses to scrap export duty on petroleum products, Belarusian vice premier says

    From: Navany
    Russia refuses to scarp its customs duty on deliveries of petroleum products to Belarus, Andrey Kabyakow, deputy prime minister of Belarus, said in Moscow on February 26 following a meeting of the Customs Union’s Commission.

    The Belarusian delegation did not raise the issue of oil deliveries at the Commission’s meeting, Mr. Kabyakow said, noting that the deliveries are governed by an agreement that was signed at the end of January. “But the agreement doesn’t suit the Belarusian side,” Belarus’ government-owned news agency BelTA quoted him as saying.

    According to Mr. Kabyakow, the export duty applied by Russia to deliveries of petroleum products to Belarus had been discussed at the Commission’s meeting. Russia has no legal framework to apply it and the delegations had an “emotional talk” about the matter, he noted.

    Russia insists that the duty is legitimate, Mr. Kabyakow said. “We outlined the sides’ positions in the outcome document of the meeting and we hope that Russia will take steps to meet its international commitments,” he said. “But there is no understanding on the part of the Russian partners.”

    Trial of Awtukhovich, Asipenka to open on March 10

    From: Navany
    The trial of Vawkavysk businessman Mikalay Awtukhovich and his associate Uladzimir Asipenka will begin at the Supreme Court of Belarus on March 10.

    As Mr. Awtukhovich’s lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, told BelaPAN, judge Alyaksey Tsyatsyukhin will preside over the trial.

    He said that the proceedings would be open to the public, but the judge could order the trial held behind closed doors if either the prosecution or the defense requested this.

    In November 2009, the pair were charged with preparations for an act of terrorism in addition to the previously brought charges of perpetrating a series of arsons and explosions targeting the property of local officials in Vawkavysk, Hrodna region.

    Messrs. Awtukhovich and Mr. Asipenka were arrested by personnel of Almaz, an elite anti-terror police unit, in armed raids in their hometown of Vawkavysk in February 2009.

    The interior ministry announced after six months that Mr. Awtukhovich was charged with making preparations a few years ago for murdering Uladzimir Sawchanka, chairman of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee, and Deputy Tax Minister Vasil Kamyanko.

    The 46-year-old Awtukhovich staged a hunger strike between April 16 and July 16, protesting his detention and demanding that the case should be either referred to court or all those under investigation in the case should be released on their own recognizance.

    Mr. Awtukhovich, a veteran of the USSR’s Afghanistan war and a holder of three combat medals, was among civil society activists who petitioned the government in January 2009 to restore state benefits for the veterans of the war. Mr. Awtukhovich refused to accept a jubilee medal that the Belarusian government distributed to Afghanistan veterans on the occasion of 20 years since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from that country.

    In 2004, Mr. Awtukhovich unsuccessfully ran for Parliament.

    Speaking to reporters in January, Lyudmila Hraznova, leader of the Lithuanian-registered Human Rights Alliance, described Messrs. Awtukhovich and Asipenka as “symbolic sacrifices” of the Belarusian authorities

    The activist said that there are “traditionally” two or three people held in custody for political reasons in Belarus.

    “Earlier, such people were arrested purely under political articles of the Criminal Code, whereas now a kind of mimicry takes place,” she noted. “The authorities say that Awtukhovich and Asipenka are behind bars for preparations for an act of terrorism against the chairman of the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee, Uladzimir Sawchanka, and Deputy Tax Minister Vasil Kamyanko, but rights activists view them as political prisoners.”

    These are “exemplary arrests and symbolic sacrifices that the authorities offer every year to ensure that civil society and political opposition undergo a psychological stress and scale down their activities,” she said.

    Finance ministry announces budget surplus of 163.2 billion rubels in January

    From: Navany
    Belarus had a national budget surplus of 163.2 billion rubels ($56.5 million) in January 2010, the finance ministry said.

    It linked the surplus to "budget policy measures aimed at saving public funds."

    The government’s national budget revenues amounted to 2.2 trillion rubels, or 6.2 percent of the target set for the entire year. As much as 700.4 billion rubels came from value-added tax, 576.4 billion from taxes on “external economic activities” and 211.6 billion from the profit tax, or 5.6, 5.7 percent and six percent of the respective targets for the year.

    As of February 1, tax arrears stood at 102.1 billion rubels, 43.4 billion more than on January 1.

    The national budget's expenditures totaled two trillion rubels, or 5.4 percent of what was projected for the entire year.

    Expenditures on the national economy amounted to 700 billion rubels, 5.7 percent of the amount projected for the entire year.

    Around 700 billion rubels, or 4.4 percent of the projected amount, reportedly went toward "general state activities."

    A total of 400 billion rubels, or 6.4 percent of the projected amount, went to the "social sphere," which includes education, the media, public health, culture and sports, the finance ministry said.

  • From the Opposition...

    EU denies loans to Belarusian dictator

    From: Charter '97
    The European Investment Bank (EIB) stops issuing loans to Belarus in connection with pressure on the Union of Poles and scheduled consideration of this problem in the EU Council.

    The Council is to take a decision whether loaning programmes for Belarus should be reduced or blocked. It was planned to give Belarus loans at a total sum of 1 billion euros.

    As of now, Belarus expressed its interest in EIB’s €500-million aid to support economic projects. In particular, to finance the joint Belarusian-German project on upgrading of the Belarusian railway and construction of electricity transmission line Bialystok–Ros, “Nasha Niva” reports referring to Gazeta Wyborcza.

    Marta Gajecka, EIB Vice-President, said a part of the credits could have been granted to Belarusian banks to support programmes of medium and small business development.

    The European Investment Bank was created by the EU member states. It gives loans on more favourable terms than commercial banks. The Bank planned to implement €3.7-million projects in Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus until 2013.

    We remind that Law and Justice, the party of Polish President Lech Kaczynski calls on Brussels to impose trade embargo against Belarus for violation of the right of the Polish minority and repression against the opposition in the country.

    On February 17, the Sejm of Poland adopted a resolution condemning actions of the Belarusian authorities. “Taking into account the new wave of repressions against the Union of Poles in Belarus and Union’s activists, the parliament finds it necessary to return to sanctions in relation to Belarus,” says the resolution proposed by Marshal of the Sejm Bronislaw Komorowski.

    Polish MFA Secretary Of State Jan Borkowski, stated the day before: “Belarusian authorities face a choice: to follow democratic standards existing in the Council of Europe and the EU, or reject them, and then we would have to make more resolute steps including economic sanctions”.

    No advertising on elections in Homel region

    From: Viasna
    The municipal authorities of a number of major towns of Homel region have so far failed to inform local residents of the forthcoming local council elections. There are no posters or banners advertising the elections in Svetlahorsk, Zhlobin and Rahachou. As a result, members of the candidates’ initiative groups experience difficulties while collecting signatures, since few people actually know about the elections.

    Homel For Freedom activist appeals non-registration of initiative group

    Piotr Kuzniatsou, coordinator of For Freedom Homel regional office, who had intended to run in the forthcoming elections, lodged a complaint with Homel Regional Court after his initiative group was not registered by the local electoral commission. His previous appeal against the decision was considered by Homel regional electoral commission and dismissed, due to the exceeding number of members in the group – 21 instead of 3-10, as provided by the law.

    The activist refers to Article 37 of the Belarusian Constitution, ensuring everyone’s right to take part in state government and claims that Paragraph 1 of Article 65 of the Electoral Code, establishing the maximum number of the initiative group members, runs counter to the above-mentioned provision of the Constitution.

    Pinsk authorities force opposition candidates’ initiative groups out of town center

    Under Decree #157 adapted by Pinsk town executive committee, candidates will not be allowed to hold pickets for collecting signatures of voters within 100 meters of governmental buildings, industrial enterprises, educational, medical, religious and sports buildings, thus forcing the initiative groups out of the town center.

    The decision is deemed as a restriction of canvassing opportunities in most of the town’s central streets, developing the recent tendency of Brest region executive authorities – the larger is the town, the more severe are the restrictions.

  • Russia...

    Ukraine Won’t Join Russian-Led Customs Union on WTO Concerns

    From: Bloomberg
    Ukraine won’t consider joining a customs union comprised of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia until the three former Soviet republics are admitted into the World Trade Organization, a presidential administration official said.

    Joining the Russian-led union now would “directly contradict” and “complicate” Ukraine’s membership of the WTO,” which it joined in 2008, Iryna Akimova, President Viktor Yanukovych’s first deputy chief of staff, said on a talk show late yesterday on the Inter television channel.

    The Kommersant newspaper reported on Feb. 17 that Yanukovych might lead Ukraine into the customs union, which came into effect on Jan. 1. Two days later, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev instructed the head of the country’s Federal Customs Service to help Ukraine join.

    Yanukovych “has clearly stated that any new steps in international cooperation should be made without violating existing agreements,” Akimova said. Ukraine will assist other former Soviet republics to join the WTO.

    EU ponders 'what to offer' to Ukraine

    From: EurActiv
    EU foreign affairs ministers will discuss today (22 February) in Brussels "what to offer" to Ukraine, as the country's new president-elect, Viktor Yanukovich, appears to be considering moving towards a customs union with Russia.

    Paradoxically, the European Union may seek to be more generous to Ukraine now that the country has a new pro-Russian president, Western diplomatic sources told EurActiv.

    However, such an opening may prove too late as, according to press reports, Yanukovich is considering a Russian offer to open negotiations on establishing a customs union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus (EurActiv 18/02/10).

    Tymoshenko abandons legal battle

    Yanukovich is now set to be officially inaugurated as president on 25 February, after defeated presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko withdrew on Saturday from a legal battle in which she was accusing her opponent of massive electoral fraud.

    On Sunday, Yanukovych said he is considering the candidacies of ex-national banker Sergei Tigipko, ex-parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Mykola Azarov, a leader of Yanukovich's Party of Regions, for the prime ministerial post.

    Tymoshenko is still Ukraine's prime minister, but Yanukovich is trying to persuade the two parties in her coalition to switch camps and oust her from government.

    On Sunday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Yanukovich. The two men reportedly agreed that Yanukovich would visit Moscow in early March.

    In interviews with Russian journalists last week, Yanukovich said he would not pursue NATO membership and would consider prolonging an agreement to base Russia's Black Sea fleet in Crimea.

    A possible customs union with Russia is also expected to rank high on the agenda during Yanukovich's visit to Moscow.

    Geopolitical choice

    In principle, EU-Ukraine relations could have reached the point of establishing a customs union, but discussions were stalled as a result of internal in-fighting between Prime Minister Tymoshenko and outgoing president Viktor Yuschenko. US experts and politicians had been calling on the EU to be "more daring" and propose closer ties to Ukraine (EurActiv 29/05/09).

    Officially, EU diplomats attribute the delay in negotiating an EU-Ukraine Association agreement to the troubled political climate in Ukraine in the last couple of years. In September 2008, under the French EU Presidency, the Union decided that the future legal basis of relations would be an Association Agreement, but the bloc made no commitment that Ukraine would join the European Union one day.

    Speaking to EurActiv, Tom Spencer, a former MEP and executive director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, said that the Union could now be more generous and daring with Ukraine, because its new leader would not be pressing for EU accession.

    However, diplomats declined to comment on whether Yanukovich would be told that he has to choose between a customs union with the EU and with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    "Let's first see what the new president will say in his new capacity," the ambassador of one large EU country said.

    Ashton overstretched

    Meanwhile, EU ministers are also expected to decide who to send to Yanukovich's inauguration.

    According to her timetable, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton would normally preside over a meeting of defence ministers in Palma de Mallorca. Diplomats said this was the first example of how overstretched Ashton would be, as her duties combine those of former High Representative Javier Solana, External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and EU foreign ministers.

    The press quoted a Party of Regions official as saying on Sunday that the presidents of several countries, including Bulgaria, Turkey, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, had confirmed they would attend alongside Ashton.

    Russia look to Sochi after Vancouver flop

    From: NBC
    Yevgeny Plushenko
    he curtain finally came down on the glory days of Russian figure skating in Vancouver.

    The once-powerful team return home for the first time in 50 years without a gold medal in a debacle that has reached the highest echelons of government.

    With Russia set to host their first Winter Games in four years time in Sochi, they had at least been hoping to keep the flame alive with two gold medals in Vancouver.

    Hopes were high after Yevgeny Plushenko was lured out of retirement to defend his men's title with ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin favourites as the reigning world champions.

    Instead the team leave with just two medals - Plushenko's silver in the men's event and Domnina and Shabalin's ice dancing bronze.

    Russian ice dancers had claimed all but two golds since it was introduced to the Olympics in 1976.

    A beleaguered Shabalin said that the only way to reverse the trend was "to bring all the Russian coaches back to Russia."

    "We did everything we could. We didn't expect Russian figure skating to go down."

    In pairs, they had won gold at 12 Olympics in a row, but European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov finished off the podium, as the advantage swung to Asia with Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo leading a Chinese 1-2.

    Russia have less of a tradition in women's skating, but in recent years they could count on popular two-time Olympic medallist Irina Slutskaya to lift them.

    This time their top-placed skater Alena Leonova, a former world junior champion, finished ninth, just ahead of national champion Ksenia Makarova.

    Not since 1960 have skaters from Russia or the Soviet Union left a Winter Games without a figure skating gold.

    When Plushenko finished second to American Evan Lysacek in the men's competition, there was furious talk back home of a conspiracy.

    Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighed in, saying Plushenko's silver medal finish "was worth a gold medal," while others decried injustice and called for officials to "protect the honour" of Russian athletes.

    Putin personally invested much to secure the 2014 Sochi Games, and pride is at skate for Russian athletes to do well in four years' time.

    While the collapse of the former Soviet structure of training, and the exodus of the top coaches to the United States and Canada, are seen as part of the problem, former athletes are also blaming incompetence and corruption in state structures and federations.

    Triple Olympic champion Irina Rodnina launched a scathing attack on Russian figure skating federation chief Valentin Piseyev and Leonid Tyagachev, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee (ROC).

    "I believe, we have the right to ask him (Tyagachev) to give an account on all of the ROC expenses in the recent years," said former pairs winner Rodnina.

    But as much of the impetus switches in Asia, China's Zhao believes it is just a period of readjustment for the former Soviet Union, who need to build up their coaching structures again.

    "The Chinese team had these results because we not only have splendid coaches, we also have more young skaters coming up.

    "It doesn't mean they (Russia) are not good. I'm expecting them to come back even stronger."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Complaints against Polish travel agencies rise

    From: WBJ
    Although the tourism market shrank by 10 percent in terms of sales last year, Poles are increasingly often expressing dissatisfaction with overseas holidays.

    The number of complaints about dirty or aging hotels and poor service appearing on the web portal HolidayCheck is increasing, said the site's Anna Lewinska.

    Complaints directed by customers to their travel agents are also becoming more frequent.

    "In 2007 we recorded 328 complaints to tour operators," said Marta Milewska, spokeswoman for the Mazowsze provincial government. "In 2008 we already had 506, then last year 528, of which as many as 150 cases were applications for compensation ofter the collapse of the Kopernik travel agency."

    According to estimates by industry representatives, there may have been as many as 5,000 complaints across the whole country.

    Unemployment rises, sales fall short

    From: WBJ
    Registered unemployment rose to 12.7 percent in January, according to figures released Tuesday by the Central Statistical Office (GUS).

    This means more than 2.05 million people are officially out of work in Poland, with 31,000 registering in January alone – about one fifth more than the previous month.

    Company retail sales measured at current prices gained just 2.5 percent in January from a year earlier, falling short of the five percent predicted by analysts.

    Taking just larger companies, employing 10 or more people, into account, the figure fell by 1.1 percent.

    The last time there was a year-on-year drop in sales was in February 2009 and the drop is the biggest since January 2005.

    Economists blame a mix of seasonal factors, job market problems and the effect of the severe winter.

    Cash-strapped cops

    From: WBJ
    The Polish police has found itself suffering from financial woes recently, resulting in it reducing the number of trainings for its officers. Some specialized equipment is lying unused as well, since there are not enough trained officers to use it.

    The Polish police force has been forced to slash training training expenses in recent months in a bid to save money. The force has shortened training and even canceled some seminars, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reported last week.

    Experts worry this could result in safety threats to the public.

    Due to the lack of trained personnel, a number of recently-purchased high-speed Triumph motorcycles and police dogs are never used. Unionists denounced this waste of money.

    Police spokesperson Mariusz Sokolowski commented that unlike the past year, 2010 will be a year of training for the Polish police, with a higher number of specialized courses. “The Office of Personnel and the Training Police Headquarters are collecting information on the number of people who should be trained as soon as possible in specialized workshops,” Mr Soko?owski told Gazeta Wyborcza.

    He admitted earlier reports that motorcycles are parked unused in garages, but said that this situation is not due to lack of trained officers who can ride them, but to the cold weather.

    Training times

    It takes seven months for a police officer to be fully trained – the shortest period of any force in Europe.

    Mr Soko?owski said that the training actually comprises six months of schooling, and nearly two months of practical training. In comparison, Czech officers are trained for 18 months, and their German counterparts three years.

    Wages form the bulk of the Polish police force’s budget. There are currently around 103,000 officers in the force, as well as 12,000 civilian employees. The annual budget for 2009 was zl.6.951 billion – a 10-percent reduction from 2008.

    Last fall, Commander in Chief of Police Andrzej Matejuk told Gazeta Prawna that despite an expected increase of about 7.8 percent and continued funding from the modernization program of the Police and the EU, the police budget in 2010 would still be a difficult one.

    Polish-Swiss team probes Warsaw metro-gate corruption case

    From: The News
    The Minister of Justice is looking into a corruption scandal involving the purchase of rolling stock for Warsaw’s Metro train system, involving local authorities and bankers from Poland, Switzerland and Spain.

    The first Polish-Swiss criminal investigation team in history was formed in October 2009 as a result of an agreement between the Polish Justice Ministry and the Swiss Prosecutor’s Office.

    The team, which consists of investigators from the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and from the Federal Criminal Police in Bern, are investigating whether Warsaw officials received bribes in exchange for fixing the results of a tender on the supply of trams and wagons to be used by Warsaw Metro.

    The tender worth over 150 million dollars was won by the French transport giant Alstom. The investigators suspect that Warsaw officials were bribed between 1998 and 2002, when the chairman of the Democratic Party, Pawel Piskorski was involved in a series of alleged corruption scandals.

    The international team will also investigate if Warsaw officials laundered money in Switzerland.

    Several suspects have been arrested in Poland, Switzerland and Spain in connection with the case. In January, the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau detained Bohdan Z., former head of the Warsaw Metro and the Prosecutor’s Office in the western city of Wroclaw charged him with corruption. The Swiss police detained a former clerk at the Coutts bank who allegedly acted as a middleman between Warsaw officials and the company or individual who tried to influence the tender. Finally, two weeks ago Spanish police arrested Tadeusz N., a former Warsaw city hall official who is suspected of bribing the head of the Warsaw Metro.

    The Spanish police was supposed to arrest Tadeusz N. in January but they could not find him even after the court issued the European Arrest Warrant on him. Therefore, the Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Kwiatkowski asked the famous Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who arrested the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, for help.

    The investigation into corruption at the Warsaw city hall was initiated by the testimony of Peter Vogel, an infamous “cashier of the left”, murderer and later banker in Switzerland who is accused of conducting illegal business transactions of Poland’s prominent left-wing politicians. Vogel reveled that bribes were transferred to Warsaw officials’ secret bank accounts in the Coutts bank in Zurich.

    Now, the Polish-Swiss investigation team is establishing, where the money deposited on the Poles’ accounts came from.

    Wroclaw corruption and Blackjack Affair link

    From: The News
    RZECZPOSPOLITA informs of a top secret investigation into corruption of public sector officials in Lower Silesia.

    May sound nothing out of the ordinary, but a list of names which are allegedly involved in the affair include some of the key witnesses in the ongoing Blackjack Scandal. One of them is Mr. Ryszard Sobiesiak, an influential businessman and casino owner who is one of the main suspects in the gambling scandal. RZECZPOSPOLITA writes that the enquiry has been run by the Organised Crime Prosecution Office in Krakow since October 2009, precisely when the Blackjack Scandal surfaced. Prosecutors are refraining from giving any comment, but it has been confirmed that members of the Blackjack Commission have been informed of the findings, which may be crucial to the whole affair, reports RZECZPOSPOLITA.

  • Sport...

    Alexei Grishin of Belarus takes aerials gold in Vancouver

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ aerial jumper Alexei Grishin brought the first gold to the country at the Winter Olympics 2010 in Vancouver, BelTA informs.

    Alexei Grishin scored a combined total of 248.41 points in his two jumps (120.58+127.83). This is his second Olympic medal. He won bronze at the Olympics 2002 in Salt Lake City.

    Jeret Peterson of the United States took the silver (247.21 points – 118.59+128.62) and China's Liu Zhongqing won the bronze (242.53 – 119.91+122.62).

    Timofei Slivets of Belarus took the ninth position – 225.58 (115.84+109.74). Dmitri Dashinski scored 215.68 (86.95+128.73) and landed 11th.

    Alexei Grishin’s victory placed Belarus 15th in the overall medal scoreboard of the 21st Winter Olympics.

    30-year-old Alexei Grishin took bronze at 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, was the fourth in Turin in 2006 and the eighth in Nagano in 1998. Apart from that the Belarusian athlete took medals in various national and international championships. Alexei Grishin is a merited sports master and represents the National Center of Physical Education and sports. He is trained by Nikolai Kozeko, coach of the national freestyle team of Belarus.

    Alexei Grishin added his gold to two other medals won by Belarus in Vancouver. Belarusian biathlete Darya Domrachava took bronze in Women’s 15km Individual race. Another Belarusian biathlete Sergey Novikov clinched silver in Men’s 20km Individual race.

    The US leads in the Olympics 2010 overall medal scoreboard with 32 medals (8 gold, 12 silver and 12 bronze). Germany places second with 26 medals (8, 11, 7). Norway has occupied the third place – 19 (7, 6, 6), Canada – the fourth - 16 (8, 6, 2).

  • Cultural Scene...

    Three+Two band to represent Belarus at Eurovision 2010

    From: BelTA
    The focus group of the Belarusian State TV and Radio Company has chosen Belarus’ representative at the international Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo. It will be the Three+Two band singing “Far Away”. ALEKS with the song “How can it be” will be the reserve performer, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian State TV and Radio Company.

    The Belarusian State TV and Radio Company had received 41 applications for the national qualifying round for the Eurovision 2010.

    The applications came from Belarus, Russia, Poland, Czechia, Ireland, Spain, Iceland and Australia.

    Some participants of the national qualifying round had already taken part in it before, for example, Gunesh, Litesound, Alexandra Zakharik, Lena Voloshina, DALY, and Nina Bogdanova. For ALEKS, Yelena Lanskaya, Ivan Buslai, Three+Two, Akana-NHS it was the first attempt to get to the Eurovision Song Contest.

    The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast live by the First TV Channel.

  • Endnote...

    Address of Belarus citizens of Polish ethnicity to the President, marshals of the Sejm and the Senate, the Prime Minister of Poland

    From: BelTA
    An address of Belarus citizens of Polish ethnicity to the President, marshals of the Sejm and Senate, Prime Minister of Poland

    We, Belarus citizens of Polish ethnicity, appeal to you due to the ongoing campaign, which misinforms the Polish public and the international community about the status of the ethnic Poles that live in Belarus.

    We declare that the Belarusian government has never violated and does not violate rights of Belarus citizens, who belong to national minorities, including ethnic Poles. Moreover, the government has legally formalized these rights of ethnic minorities and does its best to allow these rights to be exercised. In our country all the conditions have been created for getting education in Polish, for studying Polish, preserving and developing the historical and cultural legacy of the Polish nation.

    All houses of Poles in Belarus vigorously perform cultural and educational services. Their doors are open to anyone regardless of nationality or membership in the Union of Poles in Belarus.

    We urge you not to divide Belarusian Poles into yours and theirs. In the multinational Belarus all the nations enjoy full citizenship rights regardless of nationality or faith.

    We state that Andzelika Borys and her small circle are not authorized to represent interests of the Polish minority in Belarus. These people don’t have our respect. They have discredited themselves by violating laws of our country, constant attempts to stir up conflicts among Poles.

    We, ethnic Poles who are citizens of the Republic of Belarus, ask you to organize a meeting of our representatives with officials of Poland and to take measures to put a stop to the rampant lies in Polish mass media, to give an opportunity to the Polish public to hear out objective information directly from us, the Poles that live in peace and accord in the hospitable Belarusian land, instead of the small group that pretends to represent the interests of the Polish national minority in Belarus before nearly the entire world.

    We believe that justice and reason will prevail and the discriminatory policy of the Polish authorities against their compatriots will cease.

    Piotr Averchenko, pensioner, Mogilev;
    Valery Budrevich, director of the Mukhovets pedigree farm, Brest Region;
    Lilia Velichko, editor-in-chief of the Mayak regional newspaper, Gomel;
    Tadeusz Volchkevich, director of the Grodnooblsoyuzpechat enterprise, Grodno;
    Andrei Grodzvitsky, deputy director of the Gomel office of the MTS mobile communications operator, Gomel;
    Iosif Dezhets, a holder of the PhD in Medicine decree, chief doctor of the Beloozersk territorial healthcare association of the Beloozersk Region, Beloozersk;
    Stanislav Domanevsky, director of the Vitebskkniga enterprise, Vitebsk;
    Valery Endzhievsky, chief doctor of the city clinical hospital No 1, Grodno;
    Galina Zverko, legal advisor of the 34th central regional clinical outpatient department, Minsk;
    Natalya Karpusheva, teacher of secondary school No 3, Postavy;
    Stanislav Kasperovich, deputy director of the National Library of Belarus;
    Cheslav Kashkur, a pensioner, Miory;
    Eduard Krizhanovsky, Ravira company, a doctor, Minsk;
    Galina Kulakovskaya, director of the Grodno-based Aktsent glove-making company, Grodno;
    Stanislav Kulesh, director of the Berezinskoye company, Molodechno Region, the town of Berezinskoye;
    Anna Lantasova, chief accountant, Minskvodokanal water supply company, Minsk
    Vatslav Matusevich, head of the educational department of the Dzerzhinsk Region Executive Committee, Dzerzhinsk;
    Valery Mashkalo, driver, Minsktrans subsidiary No 7, Minsk;
    Irina Medvedskaya, chemistry and biology teacher of school No 8, Volkovysk;
    Natalia Mogdalova, worker of the Tismagmet Company, Mogilev;
    Galina Naumova, sole trader, Glubokoye;
    Gennady Negotko, director of the Yanka Kupala Polygraphic Factory, Minsk;
    Tamara Nekrashevich, teacher of the Mozyr State Polytechnic College, Mozyr;
    Vitold Pestis, rector of the Grodno State Agrarian University, corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, member of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Grodno;
    Olga Silivonchik, housewife, Mogilev;
    Richard Smolsky, rector of the Belarusian State Academy of Arts, Doctor of Art History, professor, chairman of the Belarusian Union of Art Critics;
    Yuri Sudnik, head of the encashment department of Belarusbank’s subsidiary No 620 in Nesvizh;
    Mechislav Chesnovsky, rector of the Brest State University named after A.S.Pushkin, professor, Doctor of History, Brest;
    Andrei Shandrokha, geography teacher of Minsk Gymnasium No 30;
    Valery Shatsky, professor of Belarusian State Music Academy, prize-holder of the international contest;
    Maria Shumchik, director of the Derevnoye school, the village of Derevnoye, Stolbtsy Region.

    We call upon Belarus citizens of Polish ethnicity to support our address.