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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Venezuela to ship oil, World Bank, Nordic Council, Death penalty, Transplants, Iran, Russia, Opposition; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandals

  • From the Top...
  • #497

    Venezuela to ship 80,000 tonnes of oil to Belarus in May 2010

    From: BelTA
    - In May 2010 Venezuela is set to deliver a pilot consignment of 80,000 tonnes of oil to Belarus. Belarus is supposed to receive up to 4 million tonnes of Venezuelan oil by the end of the year. The relevant documents were signed after the Presidents of Belarus and Venezuela Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez held talks in Caracas on 17 March, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The two Presidents continued the negotiations on 17 March. The two heads of state focused their attention on the new areas of cooperation which were identified during this visit of the Belarusian head of state to Venezuela.

    The two parties signed an estimated 22 agreements on cooperation in petrochemistry, industry, construction, energy and science. One of the most important agreements sealed in Caracas was a contact on Venezuela oil supplies to Belarus. Belarus and Venezuela plan to set up a joint oil supply company within the next two months. Venezuela is expected to hold a 75% stake in the company. Belarus will own 25% of the company’s shares. Crude oil will be transported via the port of Odessa for the further processing at the Mozyr Oil Refinery.

    The two countries have also considerably advanced in their cooperation in the gas industry. A license signed in Caracas enabled Belarus to develop and produce gas at six deposits of Venezuela. The two sides also signed an agreement to establish a joint venture to provide services in oil production.

    In 2010 Belarus is set to deliver 2,000 gas kits to Venezuela. The relevant contract was signed during the work of the Belarus-Venezuela joint commission for trade and economic cooperation in Caracas on 11-12 March.

    Gas deposits in Anaco are currently developed by the Belarus-Venezuela joint venture Petrolera BeloVenezolana. Hugo Chavez stated that an estimated $1.6 million of investments are to be put in the infrastructure development.

    Belarus and Venezuela have agreed on the supplies of a large batch of Belarusian equipment. Thus, Belarus is to supply Venezuela with 1,300 units of road and construction machinery (MAZ, BelAZ, Amkodor, Minsk Tractor Wheel Plant) with the total cost of $199 million.

    In the H1 2010 Belarus is expected to deliver almost $20 million worth of BelAZ underground mine trucks and autoloaders.

    Besides, the two sides signed a contact on the construction of plants in Venezuela to produce MAZ and MTZ equipment with the total capacity of 5,000 and 10,000 vehicles a year respectively. The plants will be constructed by 1 July 2011. The cost of the projects amounts to $55 million.

    Belarus has also been constructing a brick plant in Venezuela which opening is slated for 1 October 2011.

    The Belarusian specialists will also construct a plant to assemble the road, construction and utilities equipment with the capacity of 3,000 vehicles a year and a maintenance center for the road and construction, utilities and agricultural equipment and buses. The construction sites will be chosen later.

    Belarus is to take part in equipping the plants for scrap metal recycling and make proposals for building up an integrated joint company for the storage battery utilization with the total capacity of 15,000 tonnes a year. MAZ special-purpose equipment for scrap metal recycling will be delivered to Venezuela.

    A $695,000 worth of contract was signed between Belarusian State University and the Engineering Institute of Venezuela in Caracas.

    Besides, the sides agreed that Belarusian experts would design and construct an agro-town and agricultural manufacturing facilities in the Pedregal region.

    The two sides signed an agreement on the construction of a 10,000-apartment residential area in the Barinas satellite-town. Belarus is also set to build up a school and a kindergarten in the Maracay town as a present to the Venezuelan people.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, this visit to Venezuela has become a historical one.

    The Belarusian head of state stressed that Belarus had come to Venezuela “as the closest friends and brothers”. “We would like not only to extract oil and gas, but also construct towns and villages here. We want to teach our Venezuelan friends how to do it. In the future Venezuela will have its own specialists, large organizations that will represent this wonderful country in the international area,” the President of Belarus assured.

    The Venezuelan leader agreed that the implementation of the joint projects needs to be prompted. Hugo Chavez called the visit of his Belarusian counterpart “a very productive regarding the experience exchange”.

    The two heads of state also agreed on their future mutual visits. Thus, Hugo Chavez is expected to visit Belarus in October 2010. Alexander Lukashenko is supposed to pay a visit to Venezuela in 2011.

    The Presidents of Belarus and Venezuela have agreed to continue talks on 18 March.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus, Venezuela move on to more advanced cooperation patterns

    A new strong impetus is needed to implement the joint Belarusian-Venezuelan projects, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko addressing the National Assembly of Venezuela on 16 March.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the goal of his visit was to enhance Belarusian-Venezuelan relations and give a new strong impetus to the mutually beneficial cooperation.

    The strengthening of relations with Venezuela is of crucial importance for Belarus, said the Belarusian President. Thanks to joint efforts and movement towards each other, the notion of strategic alliance is being filled with concrete content. Alexander Lukashenko stressed that despite the fact that Belarus and Venezuela are located on different continents, it does not prevent the two countries from interacting and sharing the same outlooks on the global affairs. “We both do not accept any pressure and double standards that unfortunately take place in the international politics in the 21st century. We are not afraid to pursue our own domestic and foreign policy and do it to the benefit of our nations rather than the transnational corporations and oligarchic clans,” said the President of Belarus.

    Belarus and Venezuela are moving from simple trade to more complex forms of cooperation. The successful joint projects in oil extraction, seismic exploration and engineering, gas supplies, architecture and construction, industry, agriculture and foodstuffs, science and technologies, and military and technical cooperation prove that fact once again. “All these things create a basis for a fundamentally new level of Venezuelan economy,” said Alexander Lukashenko. He believes that the successful implementation of joint projects requires only the speediest solutions of the problems.

    “Today Venezuela has to create good jobs for Venezuelans, accommodate them with normal homes, and do as much as possible so that the people see in practice what they may expect in future and what their children and grandchildren will have in future,” said the President of Belarus.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus will share all the knowledge and achievements it has with Venezuela. “We have agreed with the President of Venezuela that everything that Belarusians and Belarus are capable of is yours. You can rely on us in every area whether it is oil production or construction of new residential areas. We do not hide our relations even in sensitive areas,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    World Bank seeks closer partnership with Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The World Bank has expanded the scope of financial support for Belarus and hopes for a closer cooperation with our country, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Philippe Le Houerou said as he met with Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky on 18 March, BelTA has learnt.

    “We have expanded the scope of financial support for Belarus and hope to continue in the same way,” Philippe Le Houerou said.

    “Partnerships are based on trust. Belarus and the World Bank have been partners for over ten years already. We are very happy about the results we have achieved and hope that in the forthcoming decade our cooperation will get even stronger,” the WB Vice President said.

    Philippe Le Houerou hailed the breakthrough in the economic development of Belarus over the last decade. “The economic growth in Belarus resembles that of China, rather than that of Europe, you managed to considerably reduce the poverty level in the country,” he said. Talking about the cooperation experience between Belarus and the World Bank, Philippe Le Houerou said, “I see that our joint projects are really working in Belarus. This is a testimony to the efficient state administration, which, in turn, is essential for the advancement of the private sector.”

    During his visit to Belarus, the World Bank Vice President would like to explore how Belarus managed to reach such a level of economic development. In his view, other countries might find Belarus’ experience very useful.

    Another important area where Belarus has considerably advanced is raising energy-efficiency in the country. This is a burning issue for Europe and Central Asia. For instance, in Russia the energy conservation potential equals energy consumption in France. “Belarus is in the vanguard in this field. We are glad that we are on your side and support Belarus with the relevant energy-conservation program,” Philippe Le Houerou said.

    He welcomed the adoption of the economic development strategy in Belarus. “We might be able to help you reach the goals you have set,” the World Bank Vice President added.

    The World Bank experts, members of the government and ministries of Belarus will take part in the seminar in Minsk on 18 March. “At the seminar we will discuss ways to restore the high economic growth rate Belarus demonstrated in the last decade,” Philippe Le Houerou said.

    Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992. Since then, the Bank’s lending commitments to Belarus totaled $643 million for nine projects; about thirty national programs received grant financing totaling $18 million. Belarus is currently using World Bank to implement four infrastructure projects.

    The revised World Bank-Belarus Cooperation Strategy for 2008-2011 was endorsed in the late 2009. The document provides for an increase of the WB annual financial support to Belarus from $100 million to $250 million in 2010-2011. The move will help intensify the joint work on the mutually beneficial projects.

    Belarus received a WB $200-million DPL loan in December 2009.

    BelTA informed earlier, in 2011 the World Bank may issue another DPL of $100 million provided Belarus makes progress in structural reforms. Yet, the final size of the loan will depend on the World Bank’s general lending potential.

    Belarus, Baltics, Nordic Council to discuss role of politicians in society

    From: BelTA
    on 22-23 March Minsk will play host to the conference of the Baltic states, North European countries and Belarus, The Role of Politicians in A Changing Society, BelTA learnt from Mikhail Rusy, Chairman of House of Representatives’ Permanent Commission for Chernobyl Problems, Ecology and Nature Management, head of Belarus’ parliamentary delegation for cooepraiton with the Nordic Council.

    Participants of the conference will discuss the model of development of the North European countries (why it is a success and how it can be improved) and EU’s strategy regarding the Baltic Sea (challenges and possibilities). “There is the development model of the Belarusian society which is based on the world experience and national characteristics. For instance, we have borrowed a lot of things from the North European countries what concerns the social policy. We would like to share our experience show the development model of the Belarusian society during the conference,” Mikhail Rusy said.

    The MP is sure that Belarus should take an active part in the discussion concerning the EU’s strategy regarding the Baltic Sea. “Our country should be a full-fledged member of the Baltic Sea Conference which unites 12 countries of the Baltic Sea region. Belarus has its own interests there: two rivers, the Zapadnaya Dvina and Neman, flow into the Baltic Sea. We need to take part in the discussions regarding the construction of sewage disposal plants, creation of travel routes, ecological security,” Mikhail Rusy noted.

    Attending the conference will be eight representatives of the Belarusian Parliament, 12 MPs from 8 countries of the Nordic Council, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The politicians who are not members of the Belarusian Parliament are expected to make their reports at the conference.

    According to Mikhail Rusy, there will be an interesting dialogue. Belarus may adopt a lot from the social policy and development strategy of the North European and Baltic countries, he noted. The deputy stressed that Belarus and many of the countries – participants of the conference have their own policy and do not change it to cater to somebody’s interests. For instance, Norway is a NATO member but it is not a member of the European Union.

    Mikhail Rusyi noted that this will be the fourth conference of this kind and it will be held in Minsk not in Vilnius as before. According to him, the decision to hold the conference in the Belarusian capital says about the growing confidence and interest in this country in the Northern region. “Such conferences are useful for all the sides. They allow foreign politicians to see Belarus with their own eyes as very often they have absolutely distorted information as to the state of affairs in Belarus,” he underscored.

    Senator Smirnov: Belarus may abolish death penalty

    From: BelTA
    Yevgeny Smirnov, Chairman of the Legislation and State Development Commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, does not rule a possibility that the capital punishment will be eventually abolished in Belarus. The senator made this statement as he addressed the chairmen of regional and municipal courts at the Council of the Republic on 18 March, BelTA has learnt.

    Yevgeny Smirnov emphasized that death sentences are extremely rare in Belarus. For instance, in 2008 and 2009 only two death sentences were passed by Belarusian courts.

    The MP reminded that the Council of Europe strongly demands that Belarus abolish capital punishment. “May be, it is time to do that. I do not rule out a possibility that this issue will be finally settled in Belarus. We would have done it anyway, if they had not pressurized us,” the senator said. He added that he would not be surprised if some time after the capital punishment is abolished, they would point out to severe prison conditions in Belarus. “They have always been attentive to criminals. Nobody cares about victims, people who sustained life-long disabilities or were killed, children who were made orphans, but everyone is so concerned about criminals. Half of Europe is concerned about the two people who were executed in Belarus. These are double standards,” Yevgeny Smirnov said.

    In his words, he talked to Europeans on numerous occasions. He asked them how people in their home countries would vote if a referendum on capital punishment were held there. “They would vote positively in Sweden, France (according to the former Justice Minister), and Italy. But the authorities of these countries would not hold a referendum, because it goes against the politics,” the MP concluded.

    Yevgeny Smirnov informed that a task group was set up in the Belarusian parliament to study this issue. Its members plan to hold an international seminar on death penalty in Minsk in spring and to invite experts of the Council of Europe, PACE and representatives of public associations and NGOs.

    National transplantation center performs first surgery

    From: BelTA
    The new research and practical center of organ and tissue transplantation which was set up at the 9th city hospital has performed the first surgery, BelTA learnt from chief surgeon of the Healthcare Ministry of Belarus Ivan Pikirenya.

    “The opening of the center will give a powerful impetus to the further development of the national transplant surgery,” Ivan Pikirenya said. After all, the center has purchased the most advanced equipment. The specialists of the center have been trained abroad.

    Head of the center, deputy administrator of hospital No. 9 Oleg Rummo informed that the first surgery, liver transplantation, was performed by the center on 19 March. The 42-year old transplant patient suffered from cirrhosis caused by viral hepatitis B (HBV) infection.

    Belarusian surgeons have advanced a lot since the first liver transplant surgery was performed in the country. Today Belarusian specialists perform liver transplant surgeries on patients suffering from cirrhosis, liver cancer and bile-duct cancer.

    The first transplant surgery – kidney surgery - was performed in Belarus almost 40 years ago. Today Belarusian surgeons perform various types of transplant surgeries.

    Belarus' surgeons perform 5 liver and 12 kidney transplantations in early 2010

    Since the beginning of the year five liver and 12 kidney transplantation operations were performed in Belarus, BelTA learnt from Ivan Pikirenya, the chief surgeon of the Healthcare Ministry.

    This year Belarusian surgeons are getting ready for the first lung and heart-lung transplants. The Healthcare Ministry has already adopted a plan of preparation for these surgeries.

    The lung and heat-lung surgeries will be performed by surgeons of the research and practical center of pulmonology and phthisiology, Cardiology research and practical center, 9th city clinical hospital of Minsk, Alexandrov research and practical center of oncology and radiological medicine, Belarusian State Medical University and others. Ivan Pikierenya did not specify how many people are on the waiting list.

    The new research and practical center of organ and tissue transplantation which was set up at the 9th city hospital has already received first patients. The equipment is currently being adjusted. The new center will create favorable conditions for development of medical science and practical healthcare in Belarus, Ivan Pikirenya added

  • Economics...

    Belarus, Iran discussing common high-tech market

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Iran are considering a possibility to set up a common market to sell high-tech products and technologies of the two countries, BelTA learnt from the press service of the State Committee for Science and Technology of Belarus.

    The project was discussed at a session of the Belarusian-Iranian joint commission for cooperation in education, science and technologies in Minsk on 15-18 March.

    “While discussing cooperation prospects in computer and information technologies, the sides considered a possibility to create a common market to sell high-tech products and technologies and to set up joint scientific associations and laboratories,” the press service informed. Education is a priority cooperation area, namely post-graduate training, exchange of grant-holders, postgraduate students and PhD students.

    Medicine is another area of interest, the press service added. The two countries might jointly produce medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Iran is also interested in cooperation with the leading Belarusian universities and research centers specializing in microelectronics and microsystems, cell engineering, supercomputer technologies, municipal traffic control, microbiology, energy industry, laser and space technologies.

    Belarus would also like to attract Iranian investments for specific projects.

    Belarus reports $123.7m foreign trade surplus for January

    Belarus had a trade foreign surplus of $123.7 million in January 2010. The foreign trade deficit is projected at $4600-4700 million in 2010, the Economy Ministry press service told BelTA when commenting on the social and economic performance of Belarus in January-February 2010.

    The foreign trade in goods and services increased by 18.1% over January 2009 (the 2010 growth projections is 24-25%), export - by 34.5% (27-28%), import - by 4.6% (20-21%).

    The growth of foreign trade is attributed to the increasing average prices for exported and imported products. The average export prices were up by 22.4% from January 2009, with the average import prices up by 23.3%. In real terms export went up by 12.5%, import – by 17.2%.

    In January 2009 the export of goods in actual prices increased by 37.7% in comparison to the same period last year, or by $486.8 million. Import of goods inched up by 2.1%, or by $37.8 million.

    According to the Economy Ministry, in January 2010 GDP expanded by 3.5% over January 2009. In 2010 GDP is projected to increase by 11-13%. In January-February last year GDP inched up by 1.2%, in January 2010 - by 1.3%.

    In January 2010 the GDP energy intensity slimmed down by 5.7% (8-10% reduction target for 2010).

    In January-February 2010 overall production output upped by 4.2% compared to the same period a year ago. In January-February 2009 the industrial production index made up 95.4% over the same month 2008, in January 2010 – 102.5%.

    In January-February the largest contributors to the rise were the chemical and petrochemical industry which rose by 31.6%, electric power industry which increased by 12.2%, forest, woodworking and pulp industries which rose by 0.2%, construction materials industry, light and food industries which expanded by 8.1%, 7.2% and 8.1% respectively.

    The production of consumer goods in January-February 2919 went up by 7.7% as against the same period 2009 (the 2010 growth target is 14-15%). The output of foods increased by 9,.9% (14-15%), nonfoods by 5.9% (14-15%).

    In January-February the agricultural production expanded by 5.3% compared to the same period a year ago (the growth forecast for 2010 is 10-11%).

    Capital investments amounted to Br4.4 trillion in January-February, which makes up 90.1% as against the investment amount in January-February a year earlier (the growth target for 2010 is 23-25%).

    In January-February 2010, investments to purchase machines, equipment and vehicles made up 73.6% as against the same period last year. These expenses accounted for 34.8% of the total investments (41.1% in January-February 2009).

    Investments into manufacturing were down 19.2% as against January-February 2009, accounting for 58.9% of the total investments, down 5.9% from January-February 2009.

    Some 25.6% of the total investment was put in the housing construction. In January-February 2010, 575,800 square meters of dwelling were commissioned, 8.3% of the annual goal. The housing construction increased by 33,500 square meters, or 6.2% compared to January-February 2009.

    An estimated 349,700 square meters of houses was built up for the people who were on a waiting list for better housing, 94.3% of the total volume (the annual plan was 80%).

    Rural settlements built 166,000 square meters of houses, 28.8% of the national level. In January-February 2009, the figure was 39.2%.

    In January-February 2010 the rural settlements and small towns built up 250,800 square meters of houses, 82.6% to the same level in 2009.

    The Economy Ministry noted that in January 2010 the real income of the population (the income adjusted to the index of consumer prices) went up by 4.9% compared to the same month a year ago. The annual forecast growth is 14-15%.

    In January 2010 the real wages (the wages calculated taking into account the growth of consumer prices for goods and services) increased by 1.9% as against January 2009. The real wages of the workers of the state-run organizations grew 5.4%.

    In February the average labor, employment and social security pension totaled Br469,100 (33.9% of the minimal consumer budget of a family of pensioners per capita). The average age pension made up Br491,500, disability pension – Br429,100, survivors pension – Br289,000, social pension – Br191,600. The real size of the pension (the pension adjusted to the index of consumer prices for goods and services) raised 13.4% as against February 2009.

    As of late February 2010 the registered unemployment stood at 0.9% of the workforce (0.9% in late February 2009). In January 2010 the working population in Belarus totaled 4,612,900 people, 0.9% up from January 2009.

    As for the consumer market, in January-February this year the retail trade including catering increased by 11.1% compared to the same time the previous year, under the 14-15% forecast growth for 2010.

    In January the amount of paid services grew 6.2% from January 2009 given the 13-14% forecast for 2010. Services provided to the organizations accounted for 93.1% of the total paid services. Juridical entities subordinate to the national government bodies and other organizations accounted for 40% of paid services to the population. The figure upped 8.7% as against January 2009. the amount of paid services provided by the organizations subordinate to the local executive bodies was 8% up from January 2009.

    In January-February the composite index of consumer prices totaled 1.3% including food – 0.42%, non-food – 0.05% and paid services – 0.06%.

    On the whole, in January 2010 the profitability of sold products and services totaled 5.1%, the profitability of sales – 3.2%. The profitability of sold products and services of the manufacturing companies made up 3.8%, the profitability of sales – 3%.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Venezuela's Chavez strengthens ties with Belarus

    From: Business Week
    Venezuela and Belarus strengthened ties in energy and trade Wednesday, with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saying they are seeking to increase their independence from the U.S. and other "imperialist" nations.

    Chavez and his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, agreed to invest $1.6 billion to create a joint venture to develop oil and natural gas projects in this South American country. The projects are expected to produce 200 million cubic feet of natural gas a day by 2012, part of Venezuela's efforts to triple gas output, Chavez said.

    Officials also reached an agreement for Venezuela to ship 80,000 barrels of heavy crude a day to Belarus, a former Soviet republic. Venezuelan Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said the shipments are expected to begin in May under a one-year contract, which could be renewed.

    "We will begin with 80,000 barrels a day, but we'll be increasing to 100,000 barrels a day so that the people of Belarus have all the oil they need," Chavez said.

    Chavez said Venezuela and Belarus are united in an "anti-imperialist" stance -- a reference to their shared hostile position toward Washington.

    "We are the counter-empires. We are fighting for independence," said Chavez, who frequently accuses the United States of conspiring to topple his socialist government. "This has brought us together as brothers."

    U.S. officials, for their part, have voiced concerns about authoritarianism and measures that they say undermine democracy in both Venezuela and Belarus.

    Lukashenko, who has been dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by critics, also took a dig at the United States, saying Belarusian companies now working in Venezuela have been far more efficient than their American counterparts.

    Under the agreements signed Wednesday, Belarus also pledged to build public housing complexes and a factory to manufacture tractors and trucks in Venezuela. The two nations agreed to boost trade in construction materials and equipment.

    Despite the long-standing political tensions between Chavez and Washington, the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuela's oil.

    Stadler Rail will deliver ten electric multiple unites for Belarus Railway

    Swiss manufacture Stadler Rail won a 60 million euro contract to deliver ten electric multiple unites for Belarus Railway. Delivery of four-carriage trains will start in December this year and continue until the middle 2012. The trains are part of FLIRT (Fast Light Innovative Regional Train) Stadler’s model family.

    The trains will be built in two versions: six FLIRTs will serve the traditional local train network in the region of the Belarusian capital Minsk. The other four FLIRTs are intended for intercity travel between the larger towns. These will have a more comfortable, higher level interior, in view of the longer journey times. The trains in Belarus will operate on a broad-gauge track of 1,524 millimeters, and have a larger clearance.

    Agricultural enterprises of Belarus stocked over 50% of required mineral fertilizers for the sowing campaign

    From: Agrimarket
    Agricultural enterprises of Belarus purchased 702.1 thsd tonnes of mineral fertilizers for the spring sowing campaign, which totaled 52.3% of the required volumes, declared the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

    To date, agricultural enterprises of the country stocked 211.8 thsd tonnes of nitrogenous fertilizers, 83.2 thsd tonnes of phosphoric fertilizers and 402 thsd tonnes of potash fertilizers, which totaled 37.3%, 40.5% and 71.4% of required volumes respectively.

    According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in the current year, agricultural enterprises provide slower accumulation of mineral fertilizers compared to the previous year. Agrarians are ready to start the sowing campaign in the terms of appearance of acceptable weather conditions.

    Belarus - New escalation of violence against journalists

    From: From the Old
    Natalia Radzina: “I can barely see with my right eye. I was just coming back from outside, approaching the open doors when I saw them running down from the third floor. I dashed to the door in order to close but there were five people in plain clothes running! When I tried to close the door, I was pushed aside and punched in the face”.
    Reporters Without Borders condemns the heavy-handed raids which masked members of the Minsk police carried out on 16 March on the premises of two opposition media, the newspaper Narodnaya Volya and the Charter 97 website. Charter 97 editor Natalia Radzina was hit in the face as the police stormed in the website's office.

    The police also searched Radzina's home and the homes of Narodnaya Volya journalist Maryna Koktysh and another journalist, Iryna Khalip. Eight Charter 97 computers and other computer equipment and personal electronic equipment were seized.

    The raids were linked their coverage of the prosecution of three police officers in the southeastern city of Homyel and Viktar Yermakow, the head of the interior ministry's Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime Department, on charges of abuse of authority and blackmailing members of the Committee for State Security (KGB). Three of them were given sentences ranging from three to four years in jail last month.

    The police already raided Narodnaya Volya on 17 February, seizing the computer and files of Koktysh, who had been covering the case.

    “There are no legal grounds for these heavy-handed raids, which even violate the Belarus constitution,” Reporters Without Borders said. “These journalists are just doing their job and must not be regarded as offenders for exposing cases that are embarrassing for the police and a government ministry.”

    The authorities also tried in vain to search the apartments of journalist Aleh Biabenin and European Belarus Civil Initiative coordinator Dzmitry Bandarenka on 16 March.

  • From the Opposition...

    We mustn’t be silent!

    From: Charter '97
    An all-European action of solidarity with the Belarusian democratic opposition was held in dozens of towns on March 18.

    An action “Give the people of Belarus a voice!” was organized by the Young European Federalists. All people who worry about the situation with freedom of speech in Belarus joined the action.

    Statues and monuments were gagged in many European cities. Participants of the action handed round information bulletins about the situation in Belarus, told about another attack on the freedom of speech on March 16, when offices of and independent newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” as well as apartments of famous journalists Iryna Khalip, Maryna Koktysh, and politician Andrei Sannikov were searched. Editor of website Natallya Radzina was beaten during the search.

    The actions were held near the world known statues such as Crying Man in Swedish Malmo. The smallest monument in the world set up in Stockholm was also gagged, European Belarus reports.

    We offer to your attention photos of actions in Zurich, Bordeux, Luxemburg, Malmo, Stockholm and other cities. We continue to receive information from other European cities.

    According to JEF coordinators on Belarus, this enthusiasm of the youth from different countries demonstrates they are not indifferent to violation of fundamental human rights in Belarus and absence of EU’s firm position on the issue.

    JEF members urge the European Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton to take a more active part in the foreign policy. They think it’s time that the suspension of sanctions on Lukashenka and his officials was lifted.
  • Note: For more pictures, see HERE

    Limited canvassing opportunities for Vitsebsk candidates

    From: Viasna
    Vitsebsk candidates still cannot maintain efficient canvassing activities, since no official decisions on canvassing locations in a number of the city’s districts have been announced yet. The authorities’ inaction may result in conflicts between representative of various campaign teams, say local human rights activists.

    470 out of 530 Hrona region district constituencies to be non-alternative

    According to official data, 590 candidates will run for 530 seats in the district councils of Hrodna region, i.e. in 470 out of the 530 region’s constituencies will be non-alternative. A similar situation is reported of Hrodna village councils, with 2,103 candidates running for 2,087 seats.

    Bearing in mind the recent revocation of voter turnout quota, the elections are likely to be announced eligible. However, in reality this means that the election turns into mere non-alternative voting.

    Hrodna authorities delay publication of election information by 8 days

    The ‘Hrodzenskaya Prauda’ state-owned newspaper published the lists of the region’s divisional election commissions, 8 days after the decision was taken by the executive committees.

    A number of local human rights activists say the authorities violated Article 34 of the Electoral Code and lodged complaints with the Central Election Commission and Hrodna Regional Prosecutor’s Office.

  • Russia...

    Russia’s Modernization Czar

    From: Newsweek
    Igor Shuvalov is first deputy to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, charged with reforming Russia's economy. He also runs Russia's $200 billion sovereign wealth fund. Considered one of the key liberal voices in Russia today, Shuvalov has the task of helping wean the country off its dependence on natural resources. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Owen Matthews in Moscow. Excerpts:

    Two years into President Dmitry Medvedev's anti-corruption campaign, Russia remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
    There's a difference between our image abroad and the real investment climate. Studies of foreigners who actually work in Russia show that, yes, they meet corruption and other difficulties every day, but they have a more positive perception than you read in foreign studies. So we need to work on our information policy. But we're not divorced from reality; we can also see that there's a real problem.

    The experience of foreign and Russian companies that have been stolen from their owners suggests that well-connected bureaucrats can take what they want. What are you doing about that?
    Strengthening property rights is one of our key priorities. We've passed new rules to make it harder to steal companies. We can't pretend that we'll change the whole system instantly, but it's our job to change something every day. At the same time, no country can allow foreign investors to do whatever they like. We've become more civilized over the last 10 years, and investors also have to learn that they can't behave like barbarians.

    Many investors see the case of Sergei Magnitsky—the lawyer who tried to expose a $500 million official tax fraud, and died in jail last year—as a worrying sign that the government is reluctant to investigate or prosecute top officials.
    Don't rush to judgment. A detailed investigation will take time. Note that Medvedev's response was immediate and absolutely firm: that there would be a thorough investigation.

    How high can such an investigation go?
    It is no longer possible to protect yourself through your connections. No one is above the law. Nobody.

    Not even the Federal Security Service?
    There have been prosecutions of FSB officers too. The culture is changing. People no longer join the police expecting to steal their whole career. But the government and the Kremlin both see very clearly that problems with corrupt police are one of the greatest brakes on Russia's development.

    How are you planning to wean Russia off its dependence on oil and gas?
    The greening of the world's economy will reduce demand for hydrocarbons. We'll continue to supply oil and gas while they're needed—but we shouldn't bet our future on them. Russia has huge natural resources, but we also have a huge population, every one of whom is educated. People compare us to Brazil and India, but in fact we're unique, having such a highly educated population. So we need to harness our know-how to our natural resources. For a long time there was no mechanism for doing that, but now we have encouraged universities to open businesses, and I recently headed a delegation to MIT to find out about their small-business incubators.

    Does the Customs Union that Russia just signed with Belarus and Kazakhstan mean that joining the World Trade Organization is no longer a priority?
    It's still an important priority. But our partners don't seem to want to let us in. So we decided to go ahead with the Customs Union on our own. It will not interfere with or replace our WTO commitments. In time, we want to turn the Customs Union into a single economic area along the lines of the European Union, eventually with a single currency. But that is for the future.

    Chinese vice president arrives in Russia to start four European nation tour

    From: Xinua
    At the invitation of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived here Saturday for a five-day official visit to Russia.

    In a written statement upon his arrival, Xi said that China and Russia are friendly neighbors and close strategic partners of coordination, adding that the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China highly value the growth of China-Russia ties.

    Xi said he believes his visit will "cement the mutual political trust, deepen cooperation with mutual benefit, strengthen cooperation between political parties of both countries, and advance the all-round and rapid growth of the strategic partnership of coordination of the two countries."

    Russia is the first leg of Xi's four-nation Europe tour, which will also take him to Belarus, Finland and Sweden.

    During his stay in Russia, Xi, who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, will meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and Putin, who is also chairman of the ruling United Russia party, and State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov.

    They will exchange views on bilateral relations and other regional and international issues of common concern.

    Xi is also expected to attend the opening ceremony of the Year of the Chinese Language in Russia as well as the opening of the second round of strategic dialogue between Chinese and Russian ruling parties.

    Russia upbeat on relations with US

    From: FT
    Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, ended a two-day visit to Russia on Friday with an assurance from the Kremlin that relations between the two countries had been reset, although several divisive questions remain.

    Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Russian-US relations had recovered from the “degradation” of the Bush era and were “characterized today by honesty, openness and observation of all concluded agreements.”

    “The reset has succeeded,” he said.

    Mr Lavrov was speaking at a press conference after Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, met Mrs Clinton at his residence outside Moscow for talks on a broad spectrum of issues affecting US-Russian relations, including nuclear weapons and Iran.

    Russia said it did not rule out the possibility of agreeing to United Nations sanctions to punish Iran for its nuclear programme that western governments suspect is intended to produce an atomic bomb. “Sanctions rarely work, but a situation could arise when they become inevitable,” Mr Lavrov said, quoting Mr Medvedev.

    Mrs Clinton is trying to build support for UN sanctions against Iran and has had more success in winning over Russia, which has said it might back limited measures, than other countries such as China, Brazil and Turkey.

    Both Russia and the US said they were close to clinching an agreement to cut their nuclear arsenals to replace the 1991 strategic arms reduction treaty (Start) that expired last December.

    Mrs Clinton said, ”There are some technical issues that remain, but we are on the brink of seeing a new agreement.”

    The US is eager to finalize a new Start treaty with Russia before next month when Barack Obama hosts an international non-proliferation conference.

    Late on Friday, Vladimir Putin the Russian prime minister, who failed to meet Mrs Clinton during her visit to Moscow last year, held talks with the US official at his residence outside the capital.

    Mr Putin said there was scope for greater economic cooperation between Russia and the US, but companies from both sides needed clear signals from government that they were welcome to invest.

    Indicating readiness to resolve the problems, Mr Putin said Russia was “prepared to work intensively with members of the [US] Congress and inform them about what is really happening in our country.”

    Mr Putin complained about a sharp drop in US-Russian bilateral trade last year and lamented the slow pace of Russia’s negotiations to enter the World Trade Organisation, now in their seventeenth year.

    Russia, which has frequently accused the US of blocking its WTO accession, baffled the trade body last year with an announcement that it would bid for membership in partnership with its former Soviet allies Kazakhstan and Belarus. It has since dropped the plan.

    Mrs Clinton said she had held “productive talks” with Mr Lavrov on economic issues and noted cooperation between US and Russian high technology companies that could help Russia further its goal to modernise its economy.

    Mr Putin welcomed recent agreements between Russia and the US to cooperate in combating terrorism and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. “We are of course ready to work further,” he said.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish cops arrest Lodz file sharer

    From: p2pnet
    Polish police, working for ZPAV, “observed increased activity by a user of a Polish-based cyberlocker” in Lodz, says Vivendi Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony Music’s IFPI.

    Hmmmm. Wonder who enlightened them?

    ZPAV (Zwiazek Producentow Audio-Video) is a kind of Polish BREIN comprising the local arm of the IFPI and FOTA (equivalent to the MPAA in Poland).

    The economic crime department of the regional police headquarters in Lodz “detained the suspect as he was uploading a new film”, says the IFPI, stating the alleged file sharer has now been “charged with illegally distributing music and film online”.

    Using the tired, and hoary, entertainment cartel formula that files shared equal sales lost, and making statements based on unsupported guesswork, “It is estimated that the uploaded files were downloaded by over 400,000 internet users and the initial losses incurred by the music and film industries are estimated to be 7 million PLN (€ 1.8 m)”, says the IFPI.

    The tame and lame mainstream media parrot every word from the cartels just as though it’s reliable information from credible sources.

    Police surprised by snake in bra

    From: fox8live
    Police arresting a suspected drug dealer in Poland got a shock when a snake suddenly appeared out of her bra.

    The four-foot long python had reportedly been curled up around the breasts of the suspect.

    The woman was arrested over bags of amphetamines that police found in her apartment.

    Officers admit they hadn't searched the woman immediately after her arrest because they didn't want to breach her human rights and that "no one thought to look inside her blouse."

    Auschwitz sign thieves convicted

    The men were sentenced to terms between 18 to 30 months in prison
    Three men have been jailed for stealing the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' sign from the entrance to the Auscwitz concentration camp last year.

    The men were sentenced by a Polish court to terms of between 18 to 30 months on Thursday.

    The sign, which reads "Work Sets You Free", was stolen and cut into pieces last December.

    Officials described the men as "petty thieves" who intended to sell the sign to an undisclosed buyer.

    The court identified them only as Radoslaw M, Lukasz M, and Pawel S, in keeping with Polish privacy laws.

    Television footage from the court showed each man in turn expressing regret and acknowledging that stealing the sign was not a good idea.

    The theft occurred in the night between December 17 and December 18, and the thieves left traces in the snow and then cut the sign into three pieces to make it easier to transport.

    They also left behind the last letter "i" in the snow.

    Acting on tips, police tracked down the sign in a snow-covered forest near the thieves' home on the other side of Poland, less than three days after it was stolen.

    Suspect extradition

    A Swedish man named Anders Hogstrom, is also a suspect and is detained in Sweden and due to be extradited to Poland. Two other Polish suspects remain imprisoned and under investigation.

    Media reports have suggested that a British collector of Nazi memorabilia commissioned the theft, but police prosecutors have not confirmed that.

    The slogan on the Auschwitz sign has come to be a potent symbol of Nazi Germany's atrocities during World War II and the Holocaust.

    Between 1940 and 1945 more than one million people were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau or died of starvation or disease while forced to perform hard physical labour at the camp.

  • Sport...

    Boxer has a will to win, and to worship

    From: Savanah Now
    Boxer Yuri Foreman is studying to be a rabbi.
    It's after noon when Yuri Foreman steps through the door of Gleason's Gym, located above a furniture store in a former waterfront warehouse beneath the heel of the Manhattan Bridge.

    The oldest boxing gym in the U.S., Gleason's has been a home to 132 world champions, including Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran and Jake LaMotta, the "Raging Bull."

    Foreman, the unbeaten "Lion of Zion," became the latest to join the list after twice knocking down heavily favored Daniel Santos to win the World Boxing Association junior middleweight title last November in Las Vegas. That made him the first Israeli fighter to win a world title and earned him one of the championship banners that cover the walls of the gym.

    Yet, Foreman finds that his accomplishment has to share the spotlight with his other pursuit. The boxer is studying to be a rabbi, spending each morning in the middle of the Torah learning how to interpret the will of God, and each afternoon in the middle of a gym learning how to break the will of his next opponent.

    "Never in my wildest dreams would I ever believe that I would be putting on a card which would feature a future rabbi," saidForeman's promoter, Bob Arum. "This is the most unique thing that's come along."

    The two worlds, boxing and religion, do not necessarily contradict one another, Jewish scholars say. After all, many of the greatest Jewish leaders were warriors, so they say it's not hypocritical to pound somebody's flesh while also trying to redeem their soul.

    "Judaism is very much stressed in the here and the now. That is, it's a celebration of life, not withdrawal," says Rabbi DovBer Pinson, Foreman's rabbinical instructor.

    Los Angeles Rabbi Yonah Bookstein said Foreman "has been able to keep one foot firmly planted in his Jewishness and the other foot planted in the world that he loves, boxing. Young people need positive role models and Yuri's a great role model."

    Finding boxing

    The 29-year-old Foreman never set out to be a Jewish icon. In fact, he never set out to be Jewish, having grown up in a secular family in Belarus and Israel before finding religion.

    "Becoming a Jew," he said, "was a gradual process."

    The journey began on the banks of the Sozh River in Gomel, the second-largest city in the former Soviet republic of Belarus and a place that was once home to a vibrant Jewish community. That community was nearly wiped out twice, first during the pogroms of czarist Russia at the start of the 20th century and four decades later by the Nazis.

    By the time Foreman was born in 1980, his family had become so secular that his parents thought their ceremonial kiddush cups, passed down from their ancestors, were shot glasses for drinking vodka.

    After Foreman was picked on by bullies at a swimming pool, his mother took him to a boxing gym and told the trainer what had happened. "The trainer promised her it would never happen again,'' Foreman said.

    Foreman learned to fight in Belarus, but he learned to box in Haifa, the Israeli port city where his family moved just months before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Boxing receives such feeble support in Israel, Foreman had to train in the courtyard of a school or on his trainer's balcony. To get in a ring and spar, Foreman and his training partners had to drive to a distant Arab neighborhood gym where they knew they weren't welcome.

    He became Israel's most decorated boxer, a three-time national amateur champion. He made friends in the gym and was invited to celebrate Muslim holidays in Arab homes. When Foreman won his world title, he received almost as many calls and e-mails of congratulations from the West Bank as he did from the rest of Israel.

    "Boxing," said Foreman, who fights with a Star of David on his trunks, "transcends the differences between nations."

    Foreman followed his trainer to New York and turned pro in 2002, debuting on a series of small cards staged in a hotel and an Italian restaurant.

    Finding religion

    In Brooklyn, he met and married Leyla Leidecker, a former fashion model turned documentary filmmaker who also had a brief boxing career.

    "Without Leyla I don't know where I'd be today," said Foreman, who skips workouts only for the Sabbath.It was Leidecker, who also grew up secular under communist rule in Hungary, who encouraged Foreman to add a spiritual dimension to his life. They were soon attending religious classes. When one rabbi likened the struggles of daily life to two boxers in a ring, they were hooked.

    Foreman decided on his own to become a rabbi, a goal Pinson, his rabbinical instructor, says he should reach in the next two years.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus change entry for Oslo; Butterflies, the new entry

    From: BelTA
    Belarus changed the entry to be performed by Three Plus Two, the group that will represent the country this year in Oslo.

    The Belarussian representatives decided to go for another song and will sing the Butterflies instead of Far away, the original Belarussian entry for the contest. The song was written by Russian producer Max Fadeev who also was reported to create the script for the clip shot in Moscow.

    Fadeev is a successful producer at the Russian broadcaster Channel One and he owns Monolit Records, the record company where the new song Butterflies is strongly believed to be recorded in. The Russian writer was also behind the girl group Serebro that placed third in the Eurovision Song Contest 2007.

    The band Three Plus Two is made up of Artyom Mihalenko, Elgiazar Farashyan, Yulia Shisko with backing vocalists Alyona and Ninel Karpovich. Belarus will compete in the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest with the aim of making it to the final for the second time in their Eurovision history.

  • Endnote...

    Lisa Kudrow breaks down as she discovers her great-grandmother was killed during a Holocaust massacre

    From: Daily Mail
    Distressed: The actress stands in the market square of Ilya where Mera and 900 other Jews were murdered
    Lisa Kudrow breaks down in tears in the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? when she discovers her great-grandmother was murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War.

    Pictured below, the devastated Friends star, reads town records from the 1940s revealing Mera Mordejovich was 'killed and burned' with 900 other Jews in Ilya, Belarus.

    The 46-year-old was on a mission with researchers from the programme - originally developed by the BBC - to find out what happened to Mera and where she was buried.

    When Kudrow was a child, her grandmother told her Hitler killed her mother but the actress wanted to find out more about her ancestor.

    The results of her investigation clearly distress her throughout the episode.

    Standing in the market square of Ilya, she is visibly shaken. 'The people were stripped, shot and burned,' she says.

    'Hearing the details made it worse because you conjure up an image of what it must have been like for them.'

    From Belarus, Kudrow goes to Gdynia, Poland, in search of Yuri Barudin - a cousin who is a Holocaust survivor.

    After finding him in the phonebook, Kudrow visits the long-lost relative - who changed his name to Boleslaw to sound more Polish - in an emotional first meeting.

    Heartwarmingly, Burudin and the actress's father Lee, are now in contact via Skype.

    Kudrow decided to take the Who Do You Think You Are? to America when she became addicted to the original version while filming PS. I Love You in Ireland four years ago.

    The Friends star visited the memorial to her great-grandmother and the other victims who were killed by the Nazis
    'Even though I'd never seen the show before, I was hooked,' she said.

    Speaking of her experience, she said she did not expect Barudin to be alive and the experience of being in Poland was a harrowing one.

    She said: 'It had been one sad story after another. And when I got to Poland our driver said: "Your hotel's really nice - it's where Mr Hitler stayed".

    'I thought, "I'm not sure I can take any more." Then we discovered Boleslaw was alive. It was an amazing end to a difficult journey.

    'I felt a heaviness inside, but took comfort that the story of 900 people had been told and that they were remembered.

    'Part of the show's success is that we see our ancestors were so humble and uncomplaining.'

    The series which also delves into the ancestry of Sarah Jessica Parker, director Spike Lee and Susan Sarandon is being screened by NBC.