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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, May 16, 2010

National currency stable, Belarus-Russia, Visa facilitation, Rights of embryos, Pharmaceuticals, Vietnam, Opposition; News, Sport and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #510

    Belarus’ national currency will remain stable, Piotr Prokopovich says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko met with chairman of the board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus Piotr Prokopovich to receive his report, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian president’s press service.

    The head of state was reported that in January-April all major parameters of the monetary policy were met in full. The financial markets have been stabilized.

    According to Piotr Prokopovich, it is very important that the national currency rate remains stable this year. Since the beginning of the year it has remained unchanged against the basket of three foreign currencies, though there have been euro vs US dollar fluctuations inside the basket.

    In Q1 the export increased by 29% from the same period last year. The country earned $455 million more than in Q1 2009.

    As a result, the gold and foreign currency reserves increased to a total of $6 billion 515 million as of 1 May. This is almost $550 million more than as of 1 January this year. This tendency boosts the confidence in the stability of the national currency as it is based on improving economic performance.

    Piotr Prokopovich informed the president that the economy gets lending in full volume. As of 1 May, the credit debt in the real production sector reached Br71 trillion, up 32% from 1 May 2009.

    It is important that today the banking system has opportunities to increase lending. For the first time in 18 months we have in fact reached the sufficient level of the liquidity of the banking system, Piotr Prokopovich said.

    The banks have started fulfilling the recommendations of the National Bank regarding the cutting down of the interest rates, Piotr Prokopovich noted. The interest rates on the new loans in March were 1.1% less as compared with February. The head of the National Bank expressed hope that the target to reduce the rates to 15% in June will be met. Thus, the work on reaching the pre-crisis interest rates, the rate of refinancing +3%, will be completed.

    This year the rate of refinancing has been cut down three times to 12%, which is in sync with the major guidelines of the monetary policy.

    According to Piotr Prokopovich, the payment system operates smoothly, without failures and violations. Payments are executed in real time; the volume of payments was up 13% than last year. This attests to the economic recovery in the country.

    Thus, the parameters have been met across all major areas of the activity of the National Bank.

    The head of state demanded that all parameters of the monetary policy should be met in H1 and during the year.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Russia can benefit from settling their differences

    From: BelTA
    It is in the common interest of Belarus and Russia to settle their differences and find mutually beneficial solutions to all problems soon, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Oleg Bogomolov, Governor of the Kurgan Oblast of the Russian Federation, on 11 May.

    The Belarusian head of state congratulated the Russian guests on the 65th anniversary of the Victory and remarked that “it is thanks to the unity of the Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian and other nations that the victory became possible”. In his opinion the lesson of history is topical today when joint efforts are required for overcoming negative consequences of the global economic crisis. Because Belarus and Russia and their economies are linked together by thousands of ties.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that Russia has been and will be Belarus’ key strategic partner and ally. “Yes, not everything is okay in our relations. Sometimes petty pragmatism and short-lived profits eclipse sound sense and long-term prospects. This is why it is in our common interest to settle our differences soon, finding mutually beneficial solutions to all problems,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President remarked that this year Russia’s economy inclines towards stabilization thanks to industrial output growth. “It encourages us because we are linked by tight manufacturing cooperation ties. It will spur our mutual trade and will allow keeping jobs”.

    The head of state underlined that in 2010 Belarus aims to increase the industrial output by 10-11%. In his words, performance reports in the first months of the year inspire optimism and hope that the task will be fulfilled.

    Belarus in favor of mutually beneficial equal relations with Russia

    Belarus is in favor of building mutually beneficial equal relations with Russia, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Oleg Bogomolov, Governor of the Kurgan Oblast of the Russian Federation, on 11 May.

    “We would like Russia not to brush us aside or throw us into the backyard,” said the Belarus President. He once again mentioned the problem with customs duties on the Russian oil Belarus buys. “Why do we get the customs duty while Kazakhstan doesn’t? Can you explain to me in what way we are worse? Why are they trying to make gas prices higher than those in Germany? What for?” asked Alexander Lukashenko. “I don’t understand why Russia gives unyielding oil to Russia-owned Mozyr Oil Refinery. Although the refinery does not take it,” added the President.

    In this situation Belarus started searching for other markets of this commodity and has found oil in Venezuela. Belarus started processing it at Mozyr Oil Refinery. “It once again invoked Russia’s lack of understanding and indignation,” said the Belarusian head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko mentioned Russia’s participation in privatizing Belarusian enterprises, including petrochemical ones. “If you want to privatize them, let’s negotiate. Today we are market-minded people. We often hear Putin say that market economy is based on market principles. Let’s negotiate the cost. No, they will not negotiate, they would like the enterprises for the net assets value,” Alexander Lukashenko quoted the Russian side.

    The President reminded about Russia’s imposing restrictions on supplies of Belarusian products.

    Apart from that, there are two Russian military bases in Vileika and Baranovichi. Belarus charges Russia nothing for them. “Moreover, the Belarusian army is Russia’s stronghold on the western border,” stressed the President. He also reminded about the Belarusian-Russian agreement signed to deploy a united air defense system.

    He remarked that Russia does not have the relations it has with Belarus with any other country. In his words, Russia cannot lose Belarus. “If it happens, Russia will never find allies either in the post-Soviet space or in the entire world,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko also said that he does not like using the word “partner” in Belarusian-Russian relations. “We are the same people. We are brothers. Partners are Americans and Europeans,” remarked the head of state.

    Visa facilitation can boost Belarus-EU cooperation, expert says

    From: BelTA
    Rationality is vital in understanding the problems in the EU-Belarus relations, head of the Bridge international project, director of the European Institute for Ethnic, Regional and Sociological Studies of the University of Maribor (Slovenia) Prof. Silvo Devetak said at an international seminar in Gomel as part of the Bridge project (Enhancement of Mutual Understanding and Cooperation between the EU and Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine), BelTA has learnt.

    In his words, visa facilitation is necessary to establish close cooperation between Belarus and the European Union. The fact that Belarus is not a full-fledged member of the European community is still a big obstacle for developing further bilateral cooperation, the professor believes. Sometimes sharp criticism of Belarus provided by some mass media only harms the people of Belarus and the European countries.

    “We should look forward, and necessary doors will soon open for the benefit of the European nations,” the head of the Bridge project said. The analysis of the geopolitical situation and integration processes within the European Neighborhood Policy and the European Partnership, comments and recommendations on possible projects and cooperation areas between Belarus and the European Union will be presented to the European Commission after the project is competed in 2012. The document will be available to all member-states of the project, Silvo Devetak stressed.

    Partaking in the seminar at the Belarusian Trade and Economic University of Consumer Cooperation in Gomel were representatives of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, the EU Office in Belarus, the Gomel oblast executive committee, the Gomel Office of the Belarusian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, heads of the leading research institutes and establishments of Belarus, Slovenia and others.

    The Bridge international project has been developed and coordinated by the European Institute for Ethnic, Regional and Sociological Studies (ISCOMET) of the town of Maribor, Slovenia. The partners of the project are the universities of Belarus (the Belarusian Trade and Economic University of Consumer Cooperation), Slovenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Italy and Germany. The four-year project is financed by the European Commission and comprises an array of seminars, conferences, training courses for civilians and public servants in every participating state. The Belarusian Trade and Economic University has hosted the seminar for the second time. The previous one took place in October 2009. Such seminars have been recently conducted in Chisinau and Odessa. A similar meeting will be soon held in Moscow.

    Belarus to formalize rights of embryos and surrogate mothers

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian MPs are set to formalize the rights of embryos and surrogate mothers in a new bill on assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and legal safeguards of citizens, BelTA learnt from Deputy Chairperson of the House of Representatives’ Standing Commission for Healthcare, Physical Culture, Family and Youth Affairs Svetlana Shilova.

    “The existing ART laws are fragmented, controversial and incomplete,” the MP said. Although such notions as ART or sterilization are mentioned in the law on healthcare, nothing is said about the rights of embryos, surrogate mothers and biological parents, there are no such notions, as sperm or egg donors. More than that, sometimes the problems related to the ART spill over into courts. For example, women sue sperm donors to get alimony payments, and men are adjudicated at fault.

    This situation prompted the MPs to initiate a bill on assisted reproductive technologies and legal safeguards of citizens. “This document should spell out a legal and ethical status of an embryo, a legal and ethical status of artificial insemination, legitimacy of cryo-preservation of embryos, eggs, sperm cells, the period of their preservation and use by recipients, the rights and responsibilities of sperm and egg donors, legal and ethical nature of surrogacy,” Svetlana Shilova said.

    The developers of the bill are to give answers to the following questions: how and for how long embryos should be preserved and what to do with them afterwards, how many embryos should be engrafted into a patient, whether or not to allow single women to undergo in vitro fertilization and until what age the procedure can be performed.

    Svetlana Shilova noted that at present a woman of any age can come to a Belarusian ART center and say, “I want a baby!” In the west, though, in vitro fertilization is only performed on women under 40. Western doctors came to the conclusion that it is better to engraft one or in exceptional cases two embryos, the engrafting of three embryos is considered inefficient.

    When asked if the bill will allow for in vitro fertilization free of charge, Svetlana Shilova said that it is not economically feasible. “It is a sophisticated and expensive procedure,” she said. The Belarusian healthcare system has more urgent and important issues to spend money on. Moreover, the procedure has become more available: today it costs $1,500, just up $500 compared with 15 years ago, though the salaries back then were15-20 times smaller. There are four in vitro fertilization centers in Belarus, two state-run centers (in Minsk and Gomel) and two commercial ones.

    The bill will be drafted by members of he House of Representatives, Healthcare Ministry, in vitro fertilization experts. The draft law will take into consideration the experience and expertise of foreign states. After all, such laws have been introduced in many countries across the globe and almost in all the CIS member states.

    The bill will be submitted to the House of Representatives in November-December 2010.

  • Economics...

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus should increase pharmaceutical exports

    From: BelTA
    It is necessary to considerably reduce Belarus’ dependence on pharmaceutical imports and increase the exports of Belarusian medicines, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at the government session held on 14 May to discuss the development of the domestic pharmaceutical industry.

    A wise balance of imports and domestic products should be maintained, said the head of state.

    “We have to teach our pharmaceutical industry and medicine to not only rapidly respond to epidemic threats but also to forestall panic, prevent prices for medications from skyrocketing, satisfy the nation’s demand for medications,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko. The advisability of the approach is determined by interests of Belarusian citizens, the need to protect their health and reduce the spending on medications. It is also necessitated by state interests: the need to save foreign currency, to spend the budget rationally, to support national producers, Alexander Lukashenko added.

    The head of state reminded that the capacity of the Belarusian medications market is in excess of $600 million per annum. At present imported medications occupy almost 80% of the market “while in developed countries the ratio of 50 to 50 is considered as the optimal combination,” the President pointed out.

    The state of affairs regarding the promotion of Belarusian medications onto foreign markets is even worse. It is a shame that the export of the entire national pharmaceutical industry is as low as $70-75 million, said Alexander Lukashenko. “It is also not appropriate to cover things up by the output growth rate of 110-111% while the share of domestic medications on the home market is under 20%. It is a trifle taking into account capabilities of Belbiopharm concern and vigorous consumer demand for such products”.

    The President remarked that the prevalence of imported medications threatens the economy and the national security (there is a risk that there may be shortages of necessary medications for Belarusians).

    Alexander Lukashenko gave an instruction to develop the production of drug substances in Belarus (at present only 49 out of 618 substances used by the Belarusian pharmaceutical industry are domestically produced).

    Belarus-made pharmaceuticals should account for at least 50% of the Belarusian pharmaceutical market. Belarusian drugs should not become more expensive, while their quality should remain high, the head of state underlined.

    The President gave an instruction to elaborate a pharmaceutical security strategy for Belarus to avoid heavy reliance on drug imports during epidemics and pandemics.

    Alexander Lukashenko demanded to build up pharmaceutical exports. Belarus’ exports of medicines to Russia amount to about $40 million, while the Russian pharmaceutical market is estimated at $15 billion. This opens great opportunities for Belarusian exporters.

    Apart from that, the President gave an instruction to thoroughly study the training of highly qualified pharmacologists in Belarus to improve the situation with human resources in the pharmaceutical industry.

    The head of state also commissioned the State Control Committee with a task to carefully examine the procurement of foreign medicines and equipment. The relevant report should be submitted to the head of state by late May.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus is not only EU's neighbor but also friend, diplomat says

    From: Navany
    Belarus is not only the European Union's neighbor but also friend, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, head of the European Commission's Delegation to Ukraine and Belarus, said at a reception in Minsk on May 13.

    The diplomat noted that the EU had decided to restore relations with Minsk in the fall of 2008 and proposed a toast to Belarus, the Belarusian president and cooperation between Belarus and the EU.

    Valery Varanetski, Belarus' deputy minister of foreign affairs, for his part, said that "much has yet to be done for the development of cooperation," pointing to the need to develop the legal framework governing bilateral relations, step up economic contacts, simplify visa rules and speed up the "process of harmonization in the spheres of mutual interest."

    The launch of the Eastern Partnership program by the 27-nation bloc testifies to the growing role of its neighbors, he said in the Belarusian-language speech.

    "The EU is one of the main trade, economic and investment partners of Belarus, its importance cannot be exaggerated," Mr. Varanetski said, describing Belarus as a "responsible and reliable partner of the EU" in the spheres of border control, energy security and environmental protection.

    Leaders of Belarus, Vietnam want bilateral trade to rise to $1 billion

    From: Navany
    Vietnamese leader Nguyen Minh Triet said on Friday that he and Alyaksandr Lukashenka want bilateral annual trade to rise to $1 billion, as quoted by BelaPAN.

    The politician made the remark while meeting with Barys Batura, chairman of the Council of the Republic, in Minsk.

    Trade between Belarus and Vietnam amounted to $114.7 million last year.

    Economic relations between Belarus and Vietnam are "modest" at present and the two countries are ready to contribute to the development of bilateral investment cooperation and help each other promote its goods in their regions, the Vietnamese president said.

    Mr. Batura noted close political contacts between the two countries and their cooperation in the international arena. Vietnam is a priority partner among Southeast Asian countries for Belarus, he stressed.

    "We have a high interstate level of cooperation, which is evidenced by your visit. I am certain that [your] talks with the Belarusian president, meeting with government officials will become an important stage of consistent cooperation between the countries. We are ready to discuss any issues," Mr. Batura said.

    Belarus police break up gay pride march

    From: Reuters
    Belarussian police on Saturday broke up a gay and lesbian pride demonstration by about 20 participants who defied an official ban to gather on a side street in central Minsk and march with bright rainbow flags.

    Some carried handwritten signs saying, "Today they ban gays, tomorrow they will ban you," in a short-lived protest that was the first of its kind organized by the Russian and Belarussian Slavic Pride rights group in the capital.

    Police wearing black berets and armed with batons moved in after the protesters advanced about 300 meters down the street. They tore away the flags and hauled off the marchers, some of whom had traveled from Russia for the event.

    "The police reaction was completely disproportionate to the threat which they thought the protesters posed," Russian activist Nikolai Alekseev told Reuters.

    "There were 20 people there, behaving peacefully, there were no scuffles and there was no basis for such a rough operation by the authorities."

    Between 5 and 10 of the parade participants were arrested, a Reuters reporter present at the event observed.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko is under Western pressure to enact political reforms and encourage broader civil rights in his country, which has seen ties with traditional ally Russian worsen recently.

    Homosexuality was decriminalized in the early 1990s; but as in Russia there is little official tolerance of any public show and gay bars and other meeting places tend to be cautiously discreet.

    Rights group Amnesty International issued a statement before the protest urging Minsk authorities to allow it to take place.

    "The Belarusian authorities must demonstrate greater commitment to their human rights obligations, which clearly require the authorization of such events," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's expert on discrimination in Europe.

    "The authorities' refusal constitutes a blatant disregard for equality and the full respect of human rights in Belarus."

    Belarus to Sell Up to $2 Billion in Bonds This Year and 2011

    From: Businessweek
    Belarus plans to sell as much as $2 billion of bonds over this year and next to boost foreign investment in the economy.

    President Alexander Lukashenko authorized the government to offer bonds with maturity of at least five years outside Belarus, according to a decree posted on Belarus’ national legal Web Site today. External state debt will increase by $1.5 billion to $11 billion as of the end of this year, the decree said.

    Belarus, a country of 10 million people with an economy the size of Sudan’s, received $3.5 billion of International Monetary Fund bailout loans last year. The country invited bids from banks to manage its debut sale of international bonds next year, Pavel Ladik, an aide to Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets, said in a phone interview Nov. 13.

  • From the Opposition...

    Kyrgyz press disclosed business ties of Lukashenka and Bakiyev

    From: Charter '97
    Deliveries of sugar from Belarus to Kyrgyzstan gave millions of revenues to Belarusian and Kyrgyz governments and their entourage, the press states.

    In view of recent developments related to Kyrgyzstan, one of peculiar reasons for friendly sheltering of Kurmanbek Bakiyev in Belarus could be noted, writes a Kyrgyz publication "Case number..." (a link to this information has been douns by a blogger

    Thus, in 2009- 2010 almost all sugar import (about 80,000 tons annually) to Kyrgyzstan were made from Belarus.

    From the Kyrgyz side sugar import was controlled by the Bakiyevs family and an adventurous deputy of the parliament Sergei Ibragimov, through imposed quotas on sugar import.

    In Belarus, as noted by "Case number...", sugar export is totally controlled by the state, which also symbolises control over every business which brings millions of benefits to one person or his friends.

    In this connection concrete preconditions of "hospitality" of the Belarusian ruler and offering an asylum to the ousted Bakiyev are outlined.

    It would be appropriate to recall a quote from the saga about mafia: "It's nothing personal, it's strictly business" and suppose there is not only ideological brotherhood between Lukashenka and Bakiyev in their struggle for totalitarian regimes, but to a much extend struggle for lost profits from sugar business, the Kyrgyz source notes.

    We remind that Kurmanbek Bakiyev stays in Blearus since April 19. The decision to offer him political asylum was adopted by Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally. It caused protest of the new government of Kyrgyzstan and the families of the killed protesters, at whom Bakiyev ordered to open fire. Pickets are held near the Embassy of Belarus in Bishkek constantly. The new government of Kyrgyzstan demands to extradite Bakiyev to his country, however the Belarusian authorities refuse to do that.

    It is known that Bakiyev with one of his inofficial wives and children lives in Lukashenka's residence in Drazdy or in Berezensky natural reserve.

    Siarhei Kavalenka sentenced to 3 years of conditional imprisonment

    From: Viasna
    The Kastrychnitski District Court of Vitsebsk issued a verdict on the criminal case against Siarhei Kavalenka, a Vitsebsk activist of the Conservative-Christian Party Belarusian Popular Front. On 13 May the state accuser, Zmitser Rudakou, asked to punish Kavalenka with three years of personal restraint.

    However, as it became known from the court verdict, he was sentenced to 3 years of conditional imprisonment, and will also have to pay compensations to policemen Ivanou and Palityka (1 mln rubles (about $335) to each) and Maksimau – 1,5 mln rubles (about $503) and 1,222,000 rubles (about $410) to the Harsviatlo enterprise, for allegedly damaged illumination on the New Year tree, and 62,000 rubles (about $21) – to Zelianbud.

    Judge Yauhen Burnou tried to end the trial on 13 May. However, he agreed to postpone the trial to 14 May because of the bad state of health of the defendant. The emergency doctors who were called to the court hall diagnosed Mr. Kavalenka with a high blood pressure and gave him the necessary injections.

    Bear in mind that Siarhei Kavalenka was detained at about 1.p.m. on 7 January on the Peramohi Square in Vitsebsk after hanging out a white-red-white flag on the top of the 40-meter New Year tree. On 10 January the Vitsebsk prosecutor sanctioned Kavalenka’s placement to the pre-trial prison for two months. However, on 13 May he was suddenly released under undertaking not to leave.

    Human rights defenders stated about the political motivation of the case from the very beginning of the legal proceedings, and took efforts to get Mr. Kavalenka released from custody. Before the beginning of the trial, the Human Rights Center Viasna issued an official statement concerning the political persecution of Siarhei Kavalenka.

  • Russia...

    Protest at Russian mine blast site, 28 arrested

    From: AP
    Twenty-eight people were arrested when Russian authorities cracked down on a protest in a Siberian coal-mining town where at least 66 people died in explosions last weekend, officials said Saturday.

    Media reports said more than 20 people had been injured late Friday evening after police clashed with the protesters, who had blocked a railroad in the disaster-struck town of Mezhdurechensk.

    "Negotiations with regional government officials and police led to nothing. Soon afterwards, riot police began removing people from the railway. Rocks and bottles were thrown at the police," Russia's investigative committee said in a statement.

    "Twenty-eight participants in the protest were taken to the Mezhdurechensk police station," the statement said.

    The investigators' statement said that at least six police officers had been injured in the clashes in Mezhdurechensk, located in Russia's coal-rich Kemerovo region.

    Earlier, Russian news agencies quoted Kemerovo police chief Alexander Yelin as saying that 22 people had been injured in the clashes, including 17 police officers and five protesters.

    Russia's private Ren-TV television channel showed dozens of riot police with shields approaching the protesters in the night, while some young men threw rocks in response. It also showed a woman with a bloody face.

    The liberal Echo of Moscow radio station reported that 200 people, including women and children, had blocked the railroad on Friday to demand better working conditions for coal miners after last weekend's tragedy.

    At least 66 people were killed and 24 people remain missing following a pair of methane gas blasts on May 8 in the Raspadskaya coal mine, Russia's largest undergound coal mine, located in Mezhdurechensk.

    The tragedy drew attention to complaints from Russia's coal miners that they work in dangerous condition for little pay.

    "It is the fault of the authorities that they pushed people onto the rails," Ivan Mokhnachuk, head of Russia's independent coal-miners union, told Echo of Moscow on Saturday.

    "When people are kept in the dark, when their questions are not answered, when they are left alone, when every day there are dozens of funerals and the authorities do not want to talk, a situation arises where people are displeased," he added.

    State television mentioned nothing about the protests in Mezhdurechensk, which is located in the Kemerovo region of southern Siberia.

    Russia's state-owned RZD railroad company announced that movement along the railway in Kemerovo had been restored, without explaining why it had halted in the first place.

    Around 20 trains were delayed because of the protest, the investigative committee said.

    Russian parliament to begin looking at new START treaty in 3 weeks

    From: RIA Novosti
    The new Russian-U.S. START treaty will be submitted to the Russian parliament for ratification in approximately three weeks, a top Russian senator said on Friday.

    The new START treaty, signed on April 8 in Prague, replaces the 1991 pact that expired in December. The deal is expected to bring Moscow and Washington to a new level of cooperation in the field of nuclear disarmament and arms control.

    "We [Russia] are also beginning work on the new START treaty ratification and the document will be submitted with the parliament in approximately three weeks," said Mikhail Margelov, who heads the Russian upper house's international relations committee.

    The United States has already submitted the document for ratification with the Senate, and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed this with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.

    Margelov added that he would meet with U.S. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense James Miller in the upper house of the Russian parliament on May 27 to discuss the ratification of the document.

    He added that his committee would hold an extended session on June 21 concerning the simultaneous ratification of the new agreement by Russia and the United States.

    The U.S. and Russian presidents earlier agreed that the two sides' ratification processes should be concurrent.

    Experts believe that U.S. ratification could be delayed by Republican lawmakers who want to press the administration to commit to modernizing the U.S. nuclear forces while the reductions are underway.

    The new treaty on strategic arms cuts stipulates that the number of nuclear warheads be reduced to 1,550 on each side over seven years, while the number of delivery vehicles, both deployed and non-deployed, must not exceed 800.

    The pact must be approved by both houses of the Russian parliament and by the U.S. Senate to come into force.

    Exclusive: Jailed billionaire hits out from cell

    From: CNN
    Russia's most famous prisoner, and once its richest citizen, says the latest corruption charges against him are designed to prevent his release from jail.

    Mikhail Khodorkovsky, head of the giant Yukos oil company, has been jailed since his arrest, as his private jet was about to take off, in 2003. He was charged with fraud and tax evasion and subsequently sentenced to nine years behind bars. A Moscow court later reduced the sentence to eight years.

    At the time of his arrest Khodorkovsky had been funding opposition political parties and considered running for public office himself.

    He claims his trial was part of a Kremlin campaign to destroy him and take the company he built from privatization deals of the 1990s. The Kremlin has denied this.

    Yukos, once the country's biggest oil producer, eventually went bankrupt in 2006 as a result of a $27.5 billion back-tax bill. A Russian court also ordered Khodorkovsky and his partner to pay about $600 million in back taxes.

    But in March last year, when Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev, who was also arrested in 2003 and sentenced to eight years, had only two years left on their sentences, they went on trial on new charges of embezzlement and money laundering.

    If convicted, they face up to an additional 22 years in prison

    In an exclusive interview with CNN, Khodorkovsky maintained his innocence, insisting it is the charges that are fraudulent.

    CNN was denied access to the former tycoon but managed to get written questions to him in his jail cell and he was able to respond.

    Why have these new charges been brought against you? Do you suspect political motives?

    The new charges have been brought to prevent my release from prison. They are undoubtedly politically-motivated since they have no merit whatsoever. To date, the prosecutors have failed to explain where they got the idea that all the oil produced by Yukos had been stolen. And that is exactly what I have been accused of.

    Are you simply defending yourself and your former business, or is there a bigger principle at stake?

    It was a painful experience for me to see my perfectly functional company laid to waste. However it is all history now. It is common knowledge today that things like a ban on businesses to finance independent opposition [parties], widespread illegal takeovers of property in Russia, and a manifold increase in corruption-motivated arrests of businessmen (their businesses are then seized), all began with the Yukos case.

    Since Yukos was first seized, the cost of corruption in the [Russian] economy has grown from $30 billion to $240-300 billion. My trial is both a landmark and a symbol for this country.

    Has your time in prison served any positive purpose?

    At a certain point in my life I realized that I personally needed to do something to help build civil society in this country. However it was difficult for me to break free from what was a comfortable business routine, both psychologically and in terms of the public's perception of me. In that particular sense, prison has given me a chance to stop and rethink my values.

    To what extent has this become a personal battle between you and Vladimir Putin?

    Clearly, Putin finds me more than disagreeable. It's difficult for me to say to what extent my persecution and prosecution are based on political calculations, self-interest, or emotion. As for me, my career in business has taught me to keep my emotions under control.

    What does your legal situation say about the rule of law in Russia?

    There is not one serious-minded individual in Russia right now who would tell you that this trial is lawful. There is talk of whether such methods of achieving political goals are acceptable, and whether the goals are appropriate in the first place.

    That the motives are political is no longer -- and hasn't been for a long time -- a subject for discussion. The legally sophisticated part of [Russian] society has also reached a consensus that charges against me are knowingly absurd. Therefore even answering a question about rule of law would be redundant.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Lepper leaps back into limelight

    From: NPE
    Andrzej Lepper found himself back in the running for the job of president of Poland after the election committee reversed a decision barring the controversial politician from the race owing to his criminal record.

    The National Election Committee (NEC), which is overseeing the organisation of the presidential election, ruled that Mr Lepper was free to take part in the vote, due to take place on July 4. This overturned its ruling made just 24 hours earlier which had ordered the politician’s removal from the list of candidates because of a slander conviction dating back to 2005.

    Explaining the move, an apologetic Stefan Jaworski, the committee’s president, said that as Mr Lepper was waiting for his appeal against the conviction to be heard he was free to take part in the election. The NEC, he added, had been unaware of Mr Lepper’s appeal owing to incomplete records.

    The about-face got an enthusiastic reception from Mr Lepper, a former farmer and deputy prime minister who leads the Self Defence party.

    “I have no claim against the NEC,” said the Self Defence leader at a press conference in Warsaw. “I forgive the NEC for what it did yesterday.”

    In his opinion, “the error was due to the fact that there are inaccuracies in the National Criminal Register”, and so he had no just reason to admonish the NEC.

    The fiasco prompted the justice ministry to order improvements in the vetting procedures and to make sure the ministry’s database contained the latest information.

    But although Mr Lepper can now rejoin the tussle for the country’s top job, the saga could return the glare of public attention to a past punctuated by clashes with the forces of law and order.

    In February, the ex-farmer received a 27-month prison sentence after a court found him guilty of soliciting sexual favours from a party employee. Mr Lepper has also lodged an appeal against that conviction, which allowed him to enter the election race.

    He has also faced numerous criminal charges in the past, including assault and criminal damage.

    With his past back on the agenda, Mr Lepper’s already slim chances of having any significant impact on the election appear to be evaporating. Despite managing to come third in the last presidential election with a respectable 15 per cent, opinion polls now rate his popularity in single figures.

    Polish police detain 5 football fans for unfurling large anti-Semitic banner at match

    From: Canadien Press
    Polish police said Friday that they have detained five football fans suspected of displaying large anti-Semitic banners at a match in southern Poland last weekend, while the country's soccer federation penalized the soccer club.

    The banners were unfurled by fans of Resovia Rzeszow during a match Saturday against local rival Stala Rzeszow. One depicted a caricatured man with a large hooked nose wearing a striped yarmulke, a Jewish skullcap, in the blue-and-white colours of the opposing team. Those are also the colours of the Israeli flag and the skullcap's pattern evoked the striped prison garb worn by some prisoners at Auschwitz.

    A second large banner read: "Death to the Hooked Noses."

    Polish media reported that ahead of the game, fans marched through the city with a banner that said "The Aryan hordes are coming."

    Police say in a statement that they detained five Rzeszow residents and charged two of them under a law banning public incitement against ethnic or religious groups.

    Poland's football federation also banned Resovia Rzeszow fans from attending the team's games through the end of the season.

    The Anti-Defamation League, a U.S. group that fights anti-Semitism, said it welcomed both the arrests and the punitive measure taken by the football federation.

    Earlier in the week, the group condemned the incident, saying it was especially troubling given that only 700 of the 15,000 Jews who lived in Rzeszow before World War II survived the death camps that Nazi Germany set up on Polish soil.

    "Jews were starved and executed in Rzeszow's ghetto, which was later transformed into a concentration camp for the region," the group said. "Some were sent to nearby death camps, while others were shot in the forest. Calling for death to Jews on the same spot cannot go unpunished."


    From: Daily Star
    POLICE have been warned about posing for photos with Polish pranksters.

    The move comes after two officers were fooled at Buckingham Palace.

    They had their picture taken with a group of Poles, one of them clutching a handwritten sign bearing the initials CHWDP, which stands for the Polish for: “A dick up the police’s ass.”

    Now the Metropolitan Police have issued warning notices showing the photo in London stations, above.

    It reads: “In case some nice Polish tourists ask for you to pose with them, internet research has revealed that CHWDP is common graffiti in Poland.

    “It is short for: ‘Penis up the bottom of the police.’ Don’t get caught out!”

    A Met Police source said: “Now we know about this we won’t be falling for it.”

    Big Brother Hospital

    From: NPE
    Security cameras in Warsaw’s Wolski hospital are broadcasting images of treatment areas in breach of privacy laws and patients’ rights, it was revealed this week. Hospital administrators are adamant that the cameras are there for the security of patients and staff and see no problem. “Patients are observed to ensure their safety. They are areas where the hospital can’t guarantee constant supervision by nurses,” Jolanta Borowiecka-Tenus, the hospital’s Deputy Director explained to reporters.

    However not all patients are happy with the situation, and neither is the Patient Ombudsman. “This is a blatant breach of patient rights, breaking the right to privacy and dignity. CCTV can be installed, but in public areas, not where treatment is given.” Krystyna Barbara Kozlowska told reporters, adding that the practices could see the hospital fined up to PLN 500,000

  • SPORT...

    Russia beats Belarus to stay unbeaten at worlds, Norway thumps France

    From: BelTA
    Defending champion Russia beat Belarus 3-1 to sweep its three group matches at the world ice hockey championship.

    Alex Ovechkin scored his third goal of the tournament Thursday, and Sergei Mozyakin and Artyom Anisimov added goals as Russia took a 3-0 after 35 minutes. Goalie Semyon Varlamov saved 19 shots in his first action for Russia.

    "It's positive and we've got the job done in the three first games," Russia forward Sergei Federov said. "There's no time to relax, we will face a lot of good teams and we have to concentrate on doing our things much better every day."

    Alexei Kalyuzhny scored in the final period for Belarus.

    Slovakia secured second place in Group A with a 5-1 win over Kazakhstan. Ivan Ciernik, playing in his Cologne Sharks home arena, scored twice for Slovakia.

    In Group C, Sweden lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic, but won the group. Combined with Norway's 5-1 over France, the result gave Sweden, the Czechs and Norway spots in the second round.

    Sweden took first place in the group with the best goal differential in head-to-head games, and the Czechs were second.

    France lost all three games and will face the United States, Italy and Kazakhstan against relegation.

  • Endnote...

    How welcome are Poles in Northern Ireland?

    From: BBC
    Before the EU was expanded less than 30 Polish people lived in NI
    It has been six years since Northern Ireland experienced an influx of Polish migrant workers under EU expansion.

    But how many of those are beginning to put down firm roots? BBC News Online's Emily Thomas explores the integration of Polish immigrants in Northern Ireland.

    The view that all Polish people in Northern Ireland are temporary migrant workers is beginning to fade.

    As Polish Cultural Week draws to a close, Belfast has for the fourth year running been exposed to all things Polish, from decorative paper cutting to traditional folk music.

    The festival does more than display Poland's cultural offerings. The scale of the 11-day event reflects the presence of Northern Ireland's large Polish migrant population.

    And the recent recruitment of the first Polish police officer, due to begin work in Newry, Co Down, indicates genuine integration of Polish migrants is increasingly taking place.

    This is quite a progression from 2008 when it was revealed that no Polish people were accepted into the PSNI, following a recruitment drive in 2006 that attracted applications from 968 Poles.

    Poles apart?

    Dr Marta Kempny, of Queen's University, has studied Polish immigration to NI extensively.

    She says immigrants find the place "very accommodating", and feel they receive great help from the local institutions and public sector.

    But some evidence suggests the situation isn't always so rosy.

    Race hate crimes have grown steadily in the past 10 years.

    When police started recording racially motivated crime in 1996 there were just 41 incidents, but in the past year 712 racist crimes were committed, and 1,038 racist incidents reported.

    A freedom of information request in 2009 revealed that 28% of racist crimes were committed against Polish people.

    And in July 2008 an Equality Commission survey found negative views towards minority groups were considerably more prevalent than three years earlier.

    These tensions have been shown through a number of racially motivated incidents.


    In April, a Polish family's shop in Ballymoney was defaced with racist graffiti. Shortly afterwards the family said they would continue to trade - but would remove the sign saying 'Polish shop'.

    In the same month the High Court in Belfast heard that there was a "racist motive" to the murder in Newry in 2009 of a Polish man, who had been kicked in the head and had his throat stamped on.

    And in June 2009 it was claimed that 40 immigrants left their homes in Belfast amid tensions following riots involving NI and Polish football fans.

    Maciej Bator, director of the Polish Association of Northern Ireland, emphasises that it is "just a minority" of people "who think NI is just for the British and Irish" and explains the rise in hate incidents as partly to do with increased awareness amongst Polish immigrants.

    "After six years Polish people understand the mechanisms of defence: how they can get in touch with the PSNI and what a hate crime is, and they have the confidence to report crimes," he said.

    He said the situation for immigrants is complicated by the "different rules" in "different communities", and says Polish people need "to learn the rules of both".

    Dr Kempny acknowledges that discrimination is still an issue, but says it occurs "mostly at work places of individuals, who are often exploited and abused by their employers".

    She says the "problem of ethnic hatred and prejudice" has been "gradually decreasing" since 2004, as locals have become more used to newcomers.

    A "religious factor" still plays an important role in integration between the Polish and Northern Irish, she said, as "Polish people are considered as predominantly Catholics by the Northern Irish community".

    "In my research I came across certain situations in which individuals who rented accommodations in the Protestant areas of Belfast, the Village in particular, have experienced incidents of hate crime", she added.

    Dr Kempny emphasises that the process of integration has only just started, with the population becoming stable and people settling to have families and intending to stay permanently.

    "More time is needed for some individuals to learn intercultural awareness and tolerance," she said.


    And it's undeniable that Polish people and locals in NI faced a steep learning curve.

    The rise in numbers of immigrants to NI over the past six years has been sudden and dramatic.

    Before 2004 there were no more than 30 Polish people living in NI, according to Mr Bator.

    Since then, the decline in paramilitary violence, the joining of Poland to the EU and the rise of unemployment in Poland led to an influx of Polish immigrants, with the Polish community now estimated to be around 35,000.

    This amounts to less than 2% of the population, but a significant proportion of the migrant population; almost 60% of migrants to NI from the new EU states are Polish.


    Official figures indicate that the immigration rate may now be slowing, partly due to the economic downturn and increased opportunities in Poland.

    In fact, Poland is now experiencing its own influx of immigration, explored in Borders, a photographic exhibition for Polish Cultural Week, showing members of different ethnic groups wearing Polish national costumes.

    Festival co-ordinator Ewa Grosman hopes that the festival will show the Northern Irish how much Polish culture has to offer.

    "The week shows that Polish people in the community bring their own culture that is rich and worth exploring", she said.

    Mr Bator says that Northern Irish people are already very curious about Polish culture, with many visiting Krakow.

    "The Northern Irish are a bit suspicious at the beginning," he says, "but when you find a way to reach them they are very friendly and welcoming."