Oil talks with Russia break down, National security, UN, Smuggling, Miss Belarus; Economics, Opposition, Basketball and Polish scandal...
Belarus President urges more effort on national security concept
According to the head of state, the world is undergoing dramatic transformations. New centers of power, intense competition for the access to the natural resources, tough competition among the models of social structure, the global economic crisis bring about more contradictions. “Such realities make national security even more important. Belarus has entered this period with a completely formed integrated system of national security. The developed mechanism has proved its efficiency even in the most difficult conditions,” the President of Belarus said.
According to the President, the Belarus Armed Forces have fulfilled their tasks to the full. The West 2009 operational and strategic exercise in September 2009 was a great success. Belarus and Russia did a great deal of work on joint security, signed a number of relevant agreements. Bearing in mind the up-to-date tendencies of military operations, the country’s defense needs and its economic potential, Belarus has developed a concept on the construction and development of the Armed Forces up to 2020 and the country’s defense scheme that defined the major principles of the state’s military policy and pivotal guidelines for the development of the Belarusian army.
“It has turned to be insufficient though. I believe that there is a need to work out a fundamental document regulating the issues of national security. It should contain new approaches taking into account all present-day challenges and threats as well as the conditions for Belarus’ further sustainable development,” said Alexander Lukashenko. Alexander Lukashenko urged to intensify the work on a new wording of the national security concept. It should preserve a close interrelation with the previously-adopted fundamental documents and serve as a link for the following strategic documents.
Belarus President approves amendments to electoral legislation
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed addenda and amendments to some laws on elections and referendums, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.
The Belarusian head of state also inked a law on addenda and amendments to the laws, On the Status of a Deputy of the House of Representatives, a Member of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, and, On Local Government and Self-governance in the Republic of Belarus.
There has been signed the law, On the Status of Servicemen, the laws introducing amendments and addenda to several legislative acts regulating land relations, to the codes of criminal and administrative responsibility, to the Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus.
Alexander Lukashenko also signed a law on introducing amendments to the law, On Advertising, and amendments and addenda to the law, On the State Fingerprint Record.
The head of state signed the law, On the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Belarus.
Belarus awards 223 gifted students
Gifts of money were presented to 223 talented pupils and students. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko approved the relevant decision of the Special Fund of the President of the Republic of Belarus for the Social Support of Gifted Students and Pupils, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.
Among the awardees are the winner of the international Olympiad on the Russian language for schoolchildren of CIS and Baltic states, seven winners of the First International Tournament of Young Mathematicians, ten winners of the world software engineering championship among the teams of university students, and three winners of the national students’ competition “Industrial and Civil Construction”.
Financial support was provided to two creative associations of pupils, three students’ research laboratories and one students’ patriotic club. The money will be spent on the equipment to carry out research and on computers.
Some 202 teachers and scholars who coached the winners and prize-holders of the international and national Olympiads, competitions and tournaments received gifts, too.
According to the press service, the awards are a testimony to the targeted and sustainable support for the gifted youth by the head of state.
Belarus, Russia fail again to agree on oil supplies
“During the negotiations the Belarusian delegation which arrived in Moscow on the invitation of Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian federation Igor Sechin and was led by the First Vice Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko presented Belarus’ position supported by the current legal base of the bilateral relations and the relevant calculations maximally coordinated by the Belarusian and Russian experts during the previously-held consultations,” the press service said.
The arguments as well as the calculations presented by the Belarusian side were however ignored by the Russian side.
After the negotiations the two sides exchanged their positions in written form and expressed readiness to continue negotiations.
The Belarusian delegation left for Minsk.
Nikolai Bordyuzha to take part in UN Security Council session
Attending the session will be the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of such leading regional and subregional organizations as the CSTO, NATO, and OSCE.
“The CSTO is pursuing a policy of closer practical cooperation with the UN and its regional partners in maintaining international peace and security. The CSTO participated in the annual UN-Regional Organizations conferences, and was a member of the permanent commission for these purposes. We are ready for the further active cooperation within this commission,” the press service of the CSTO says.
Taking into account its activities, the CSTO is interested in maintaining direct contacts with such UN agencies as the Counter Terrorism Committee, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Department of Political Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the UN Secretariat, according to Nikolai Bordyuzha.
Belarus’ customs services ready to counteract smuggling in Customs Union
In 2010 the customs services of Belarus will have to carry out a great deal of work related to the entry into legal force of the Customs Code of the Customs Union on 1 July. At present the customs services of Belarus are busy unifying the national legislation with those of Russia and Kazakhstan in the area of law enforcement activities of the customs services.
“At the same time we realize that the expansion of the customs territory will bring about more work related to smuggling prevention,” Vasily Dementei said. The customs services believe that the smuggled goods may come from any place, from the west, east or south. In this connection an action plan on the activities of the State Customs Committee was drawn up and approved. In May 2010 Brest is set to be the venue for a meeting of the customs services of the CIS states. The meeting will focus on the prevention of the violation of the customs legislation within the framework of the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan.
Vasily Dementei noted that at present there is no more turmoil on the Belarus-EU border that emerged in late October 2009 when legal persons tried to import cars in Belarus on the old terms. “There is no more panic on the Belarusian-Polish or Belarusian-Lithuanian border,” the Deputy Chairman said. He reminded that the individuals will be able to import cars in Belarus on the old terms until the single customs tariff of the Customs Union comes into effect.
Belarus’ population makes up 9,660,800 people in December 2009
Over the last year the population grew only in Minsk, from 1,826,800 to 1,856,400. In the other regions the population decreased. As of 1 December 2009 the population of the Gomel Oblast made up 1,461,100 people, in the Minsk Oblast 1,443,700, in the Brest Oblast 1,428,400, in the Vitebsk Oblast 1,258,100, in the Mogilev Oblast 1,115,000, in the Grodno Oblast 1,098,100 people.
In January-November 2009 over 100,700 babies were born in Belarus, up 1,900 over January-November a year before. Over this period almost 123,000 people died, up 700 over the same period in 2008.
In January-November the birth rate in Belarus was 11.4 per 1,000 people, the death rate was 13.9 per 1,000 people. In January-November 2008 these indices were 11.1ppm and 13.7ppm respectively. Over the eleven months 2009 the infant mortality rate made up 4.7 per 1,000 babies (4.5 over the same period in 2008).
The highest birth rate in Belarus was reported in the Brest Oblast (12.1 births per 1,000 people), the lowest in the Vitebsk Oblast (10ppm). The highest death rate was reported in the Minsk Oblast (15.9ppm), the lowest in Minsk (9.6ppm).
In January-November 2009, some 18,231 people immigrated in Belarus, 7,074 people left the country.
Miss Belarus 2010 pageant casting starts in Belarus
The castings have already been held in Grodno and Brest. Over 300 girls came there to show themselves. There were many beautify, impressive, interesting girls. To be eligible to participate a girl should be at least 175cm tall, from 18 to 24 years. However, some girls ignore the rules and come to the casting anyway. The photos of the participants will be sent to Minsk where the jury will choose at least three representatives from each region.
The Miss Belarus 2010 jury will take into consideration not only the appearance of the contestants, but also their wit and creativity. The majority of the girls who came to the casting tried to impress the jury with their singing skills, many recited their own poems, including in French. The beauties danced polka, latino, showed their karate and hand-to-hand fight skills.
Another five castings are still ahead – in Gomel, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Borisov and Minsk.
The finals will be held in the Palace of Sport on 30 April. The show will be even more magnificent than the preceding one. The show will be staged by a famous director from Moscow Natalya Petukhova who arranged the Miss Belarus 2008 and Miss Intercontinental pageants.
Taking part in the finals will be from 21 to 30 contestants. The jury will choose Miss Sport 2010, Miss Talent 2010, Miss Top Model 2010 and Miss Photo 2010. During the final show another two girls will receive the titles of Miss Friendship and Miss Charity.
Belarus’ industrial output growth rate at 97.2% in 2009
In 2009 the GDP growth rate reached 100.2%. The government has addressed all the issues in view of the effect of the anticrisis program. The measures taken were fully justified. The GDP reached the pre-crisis year level. Sergei Sidorsky attributed the result to the joint efforts of the entire economy.
In 2009 the processing industry, petrochemical and food companies improved their performance. The performance of the companies accountable to the Industry Ministry, which represent the most complicated part of the economy, stood at 77.3% as against 2008. The industry’s finished goods inventory shrank from 95% in mid-2009 to 68% as of 1 January 2010. The Prime Minister stressed that it is quite feasible to largely improve on the figure.
It is important that the industry’s profitability reached 10% while the GDP energy intensity was reduced by almost 6% in comparison with 2008.
Agribusiness demonstrated the best performance throughout the year, with the agricultural output up by 1.3%. The export shot up. Apart from traditional markets Belarusian foods were exported to Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Middle East.
In 2009 the civil engineering program was fulfilled, with around 6 million square meters of new homes commissioned.
In complicated economic conditions the government managed to take sufficient measures to balance import and export operations. In 2009 the export totaled more than 60% as against 2008. Import expenses were minimized as much as possible.
Social policy goals were met. Pensions, scholarships and welfare benefits were paid in full. All the state programs were financed in full. Last year’s budget has been fulfilled.
This year keeping the high economic development pace remains an important target. The government and the National Bank have adopted a program that stipulates performance targets for every company along with macroeconomic targets as well as investment components.
The head of state was informed about efforts channeled into attracting investment resources into Belarus. The efforts will be considerably stepped up in 2010. In December 2009 the government and the Eximbank of China inked a framework agreement that will enable Belarus to reach the maximum level of investment cooperation with China in 2010. The Chinese investments are expected to reach $5.7 billion.
Once again the President reminded that Belarus needs to tap into new unconventional markets to allow the national economy to develop fast. Work is now in progress in Latin America, the possibility of entering the African market is under consideration.
Belarus’ foreign trade 33.1% down in January-November 2009
In January-November 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade in goods and services stood at 66.9% as against the same period of 2008, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA.
Last year’s foreign trade is expected to increase by 16.2-17.7%.
In January-November 2009 Belarus’ export dropped to 63.5% as against January-November 2008 (the annual target is set at 17-18.5%), import – down to 70% (the annual target is set at 15.5-17%).
In January-November 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade deficit totaled $4,814.4 million while it was expected to stand at $1,470-1,500 million.
Belarus’ industrial output 2.8% down in 2009
In 2009 Belarus’ industrial output shrank by 2.8% in comparison with 2008 to Br123.2 trillion, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA.
Meanwhile, in December 2009 the industrial output growth rate stood at 108.1% as against November 2009.
According to the current data of the National Statistics Committee, in 2009 Belarus turned out Br28.1 trillion worth of consumer goods, 0.1% down on 2008. Food production went up by 4.6% to reach Br15.3 trillion, non-food output totaled Br11.6 trillion (5.7% down). The production of alcohol beverages edged up by 0.4% to Br1.8 trillion.
In January-November 2009 the profitability of sold products totaled 10% while the annual target is set at 14.5%. In January-November 2009 the GDP’s energy intensity dropped by 5.1% while it was expected to go down by 8%.
Inflation in Belarus at 10.1% in 2009
In 2009 inflation was 10.1%, BelTA has learnt from the National Statistics Committee.
In December 2009, inflation in Belarus was running at 1.3%.
A reminder, in 2009 the Consumer Price Index was projected to increase by 9-11% in 2009. In 2010 inflation is projected within 8-10%.
Russia Oil Contracts To Belarus To Expire In One Day - Source
Russia began curbing supplies through the Druzhba pipeline to Belarus' domestic market after a pricing deal between the two countries expired Dec. 31.
"Shipments could come to a halt within a day," the person said.
"There are no new contracts in place to deliver oil to Belarussian refineries," he said, adding that it is unclear whether Russian producers will sign new contracts with Belarus.
Belarussian refineries can work another three to four days on existing reserves, the person added.
Moscow and Minsk previously failed to agree terms for 2010 on New Year's Eve, and fears have been raised that energy supplies to Europe could be affected as Belarus is a key transit country for Russian oil. The Druzhba pipeline system supplies about 10% of the European Union's oil needs.
Talks between officials from the two countries ended without result Saturday, but both sides say they remain willing to continue negotiations.
Talks on terms of Russia power transit via Belarus start in Minsk
Representatives of the Inter RAO EES Company from the Russian side and of the Belenergo Amalgamation from the Belarussian participate in the talks. Negotiators concentrate on a size of a transit charge for transportation of Russian electricity via Belarus to Kaliningrad and the Baltic countries as well as its deliveries to the Belarussian side,” Itar-Tass learnt at the Belarussian Energy Ministry.
It is planned that following consultations at the expert level, executives of the enterprises will also have a meeting.
Moscow and Minsk could not agree conditions for transporting Russian electricity last December at working consultations to draft a programme for bilateral cooperation in the energy sphere in 2010.
Belenergo specialists noted that the situation around transit of Russian electricity to the Kaliningrad Region had not popped up all of a sudden. In connection with the shutdown of the Ignalina nuclear power station in Lithuania, a shortage of power was to be expected, hence a rise in transit deliveries to the Kaliningrad Region via Belarus.
Belenergo reckons that “Russian partners were to resolve all questions in good time concerning power transit in this direction, including finance”.
The Belarussian side insists on raising the transit charge through its grids in connection with an increase in expenses, preconditioned by a rise in volumes of power deliveries in 2010.
Belarus warns Russia of power cut
The Belarus state power firm Belenergo said Russia was delivering electricity to the enclave in the absence of an agreement on transit fees.
"This compels the Belarusian side to think of cutting the unauthorised commercial transit of electricity," the Belenergo statement said on Monday.
A dispute over Russian oil supplies to Belarus has not yet been resolved.
Russian oil is still being supplied to Belarus, both for transit and processing, the Belarus oil concern Belneftekhim said.
But the two former Soviet republics have failed to sign a new agreement on Russian oil deliveries for 2010. It was supposed to be signed by the end of 2009.
"We are continuing uninterrupted transit to Western European customers," said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, quoted by Interfax news agency.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he hoped a deal with Belarus on oil supplies would be clinched soon.
The dispute centres on the preferential tariff that Belarus has been paying since 2007 for Russian oil. It has been selling on Russian crude or refined oil at world prices.
Russia says it is prepared to sell oil to Belarus duty-free for domestic consumption but wants to charge the tariff for oil that Belarus exports.
In 2007 a similar dispute with Belarus over oil tariffs disrupted Russian oil exports via the Druzhba pipeline to Poland and Germany.
Adv Barbie's co-accused faces law in Belarus
Prinsloo’s trial started in this former Soviet republic on Monday. Locked in the steel accused’s cage, he demanded that the judge recuse himself, for alleged bias, and that the trial be conducted behind closed doors. The judge refused both demands.
Prinsloo was arrested on June 12 last year in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, after a failed bank robbery in Baranovichi, not far from the flat where he, his girlfriend and their young daughter lived.
Prinsloo fled to Belarus in 2006 to avoid his trial in South Africa. In October last year his co-accused, Cézanne Visser, (better known as Advocate Barbie) was found guilty on 11 of the 14 sexually related charges against her. She will be sentenced on February 8.
Prinsloo’s trial in Baranovichi is expected to last a few weeks.
According to Belarussian police, Prinsloo bought a toy gun and a balaclava two weeks before the bank robbery. He took along a knife that he always kept with him, even while he slept.
Prinsloo allegedly used gardening shears to cut the bank’s telephone lines, and blocked a door with a metal rod wrapped in paper.
When he stormed into the bank, he apparently showed the cashiers a poster with the words “Money on table”.
Later, according to police, he admitted that he wrote the message with the help of an electronic pocket translator.
According to police, the cashiers had access to a safe and money, but the “brave” women simply refused to hand the cash to Prinsloo.
He allegedly assaulted a cashier and then fled when another cashier activated the alarm. On his way out, he allegedly also assaulted a female bank client.
According to the Intex-Press newspaper, four bank workers were injured.
One woman was beaten and kicked, another woman was trampled, leaving a shoe print on her clothes, and another had to receive “neurosurgical” treatment.
Prinsloo’s fingerprints were apparently all over the bank. He was caught two days later in an Internet cafe in Minsk.
The Star reported that Prinsloo is also accused of the theft of a R14 700 diamond necklace from one of his several girlfriends.
Prinsloo is also accused of the abuse and “torture” of another girlfriend. Prosecutors allege that he slapped her in the face and “delivered blows” to her body. Prinsloo would then take pictures of her injuries with which he would taunt her.
Freedom House: Belarus remains dictatorial country
From: Charter '97
|According to Freedom House, in 2009, like in 2008, 89 countries could be called free (46% of the world population live there). 58 countries are ranked as “partially free” (20% of the world population). 47 countries are called not free (34% of the world population, or 2.3 billion people), Radio Svaboda informs.|
The document analyses the state of freedom in 194 countries and 12 so-called territories which do not have an internationally recognized status of an independent country (for instance, Abkhazia or Transdniestria).
According to Freedom House, in 2009, like in 2008, 89 countries could be called free (46% of the world population live there). 58 countries are ranked as “partially free” (20% of the world population). 47 countries are called not free (34% of the world population, or 2.3 billion people), Radio Svaboda informs.
According to the report, the number of countries where the situation with political and civil liberties has deteriorated, is higher than the number of the countries where it has improved. Last year the situation has deteriorated in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Kyrgyzstan.
Like in the report of the last year, Belarus got the worse score in the category of political rights (7), and its civil liberties Score is 6.
The situation in the country is as difficult as last year. Belarus is traditionally on the bottom o the 7 parameters of democratic development: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, corruption.
All the countries of the former Soviet Union, except for the three Baltic states, Ukraine and Moldova (partially free), are estimated by the Freedom House to be not free countries.
Freedom House is a US-based international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It publishes an annual report assessing the degree of perceived democratic freedoms in each country, which is used in political science research. The scores range from 1 (the highest degree) to 7 (the lowest degree of development). The final score is formed by a consensus of experts, academic advisers of the organisation and authors of special political reports on specific countries.
Yarmoshyna not invited to presidential elections in Ukraine
Representatives of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus won’t observe the presidential elections in Ukraine.
Spokesman for the Belarusian CEC Mikalai Lazavik said this. According to him, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission didn’t invite their colleagues from Belarus. However, members of the “house o representatives” will observe on the delegation of CIS observers, Euroradio reports.
A group of 50 human rights activists from Belarus will monitor the elections in Ukraine. The European Humanities University is also to send a team of 20 observers.
We remind that the presidential elections in Ukraine are scheduled for January 17.
All electoral campaign carried out in Belarus under Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime have been recognized unfree and unfair by the international community. Lidziya Yarmoshyna, the head of the Central Election Commission, is banned from entering the EU and United States for rigging the election results.
Human Rights Center Viasna demands that criminal case against Ivan Mikhailau be dropped
Thus, the Constitution does not consider military service as the only possible and unconditional variant, as the possibility of freeing from the military service or its replacement with alternative service are stated in it.
Correspondingly, the Constitution provides the right of citizens to execute their obligation and sacred duty to defend the Fatherland in the forms that are provided by the Constitution, i.e. also by means alternative service.
According to Article 4 of the law of the Republic of Belarus of 15 March 1994 On the order of entry into force of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus that laws that are mentioned in the Constitution, were to have been adopted within two years after its coming into effect, i.e. by 30 March 1996.
However, neither the Supreme Soviet of the 12th Convocation, nor the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation implemented this requirement and didn’t solve the question of the grounds and conditions for replacement of military service with alternative service and the conditions of the latter, by adopting a special law.
Bear in mind that Article 57 was left in this edition even after the amendments of the Constitution after the referenda of 1996 and 2004. There are norms that allow the Parliament to postpone the implementation of Article 57 on the legislative level. Despite this, the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus still hasn’t adopted a law aimed at the implementation of this article of the Constitution.
Refusal from military service for moral reasons (including religious and other convictions) also concerns other personal rights enshrined in the Constitution and other international treaties in the sphere of human rights that were ratified by the country.
In particular, according to Article 31 of the Constitution, every person has the right to independently determine the attitude to religion, confess any religion individually or in association with others or not confess any religion, express or distribute the views concerning the attitude to religion, participate in the administration of the cults, rites and rituals that are not banned by the law.
These rights are also guaranteed by norms of the international legislation, the priority of which is officially acknowledged by the Republic of Belarus, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The right of every individual to refuse from the military service was also recognized by the UN Human Rights Council.
Such right of citizens of the Republic of Belarus was also recognized in Belarus. In the Ruling of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus of 26 May 2000 On certain issues of realization of Article 57 of the Republic of Belarus it is stated:
1. to point that citizens of the Republic of Belarus, according to the Constitution, have the right, in particular, for replacement of the military service because of their religious views. In connection with this, to consider as urgent the adoption of the law on alternative service or amendment of the Law On universal military service with the aim of establishing a mechanism for exercising the right to alternative service. To agree, for the period of decision of the questions of the conditions and reasons for replacement of the military service, with the practice of creating (in conformity with Articles 31, 57 and 59 and other articles of the Constitution) of the conditions for implementation by citizens of the Republic of Belarus their duties on the defense of the Republic of Belarus in the forms that don’t violate their religious views.
2. the extent to which a citizen’s actions are connected with exercising his constitutional right to alternative service or refusal from the military service in the conditions that don’t provide the due respect to his religious beliefs, should be taken into consideration by the competent state organs while deciding the questions of responsibility for the evasion from the military service.
In connection with the aforementioned facts, the Human Rights Center Viasna is of the opinion that citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the legal right to refuse from the military service on because of their convictions and demand to provide them with the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to alternative service.
The Human Rights Center Viasna considers as inadmissible the criminal persecution of the persons who refuse from the military service because of their religious views, but agree to its replacement with alternative service. Criminal persecution of such individuals is a human rights violation.
The Human Rights Center Viasna demands an immediate release of Ivan Mikhailau from jail and cessation of the criminal persecution towards him.
The Human Rights Center Viasna demands from the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus to urgently adopt the law on alternative service as a practical mechanism for realization of the provisions of Article 57 of the Constitution.
Pipeline bombed in Russian Dagestan
A spokesman for Gazpromtransgaz Makhachkala told ITAR-Tass the bomb started a fire, which was reported just after 8 p.m. Moscow time.
Dagestan, a mountainous area of great ethnic diversity, is bordered by the Russian republic of Chechnya, where an independence movement has been fighting for years, and by Azerbaijan and Georgia.
The Federal Security Service said a suspected bomb was found near the pipeline just after 5:45 p.m. Bomb disposal experts were sent to the site but a detailed investigation was postponed until daybreak Wednesday.
Five police officers were killed by a suicide bomber at the traffic police headquarters in Dagestan. Government forces killed at least three suspected militants, including an alleged terrorist leader, Sunday and Monday.
Russia and US to Resume Arms Control Talks
From: New York Times
''We hope it will happen somewhere in the second half of January,'' Lavrov said in televised remarks.
The new deal will succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expired on Dec. 5. The two countries had hoped to reach a deal before the end of the year, but problems persist.
In late December, Moscow said it wanted Washington to share detailed data about the sea- and land-based systems the U.S. plans. The systems would replace the plans to place interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech republic.
Russia treated the plans as a threat, and President Barack Obama scrapped them last year.
Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads each country has to between 1,500 and 1,675 under a new treaty.
Moscow and Washington both want to reach a new accord quickly to give credibility to their efforts to persuade Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.
Report: Democratic Decline Continues Across Former Soviet States
|One of the authors of the report says the steady erosion of political rights and civil liberties in Russia is a consequence of what he calls the ''Putin effect,'' after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.|
Freedom House has issued its annual measure of freedom in the world since 1972. For its survey, it looks at everything from freedom of expression to political pluralism and the right to free association.
Its 2010 "Freedom in the World" survey, which reviews indicators from 2009, was released on January 12. It tracks a worrisome trend -- an ongoing, multiyear decline in the former non-Baltic Soviet states. The most significant steps backward were witnessed in the areas of governance and the electoral process.
In countries ranging from Belarus to Uzbekistan, the "Freedom in the World" survey reveals a lack of institutional accountability and transparency. In a vast majority of the post-Soviet space, a vast zone of unchecked authority has been created in the absence of an independent judiciary and the marginalization of the independent media and political opposition.
2009 was the fourth consecutive year marking the trend. Christopher Walker, the director of studies for Freedom House and one of the authors of the report, says the findings suggest the screws are only being tightened further.
"This year's findings tend to amplify some of the trends we've seen in recent years, including a deepening of authoritarian rule throughout much of the non-Baltic former Soviet Union," Walker says.
"Among other countries, Russia underwent declines. This was a year that saw Kyrgyzstan go from [an overall rating of] 'partly free' to 'not free.' It also saw some of the few positive spots, including Ukraine, hold steady over the course of this calendar year, coming into Ukraine's elections in early 2010."
Russia continued a long-standing trend in crackdowns on accountability and transparency, Walker says, despite pledges by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to restore public debate and a more liberal political atmosphere in Russia after eight years under Vladimir Putin.
"All in all, what we've seen is the continuation of the space that has shrunk over the past several years. And this last cycle is one where President Medvedev has been in control," Walker says.
"And there's nothing to suggest that the policies he's pursued have modified or altered the basic framework of governance that has been put in place before him."
Russia's downward trend included voting abuse in local elections, growing state manipulation in the academic presentation of history, and the ongoing use of political pressure to intimidate human rights activists and journalists.
Russia has steadily declined in the Freedom House rankings over the past decade, sinking from a "partly free" overall rating to "not free."
The 'Putin Effect'
Arch Puddington, Freedom House's director of research and one of the authors of the report, says the steady erosion of political rights and civil liberties in Russia is a consequence of what he calls the "Putin effect."
"An important part of the Putin agenda was to consolidate centralized state control over as much of Russian society as possible. And the second part of the Putin effect is what happened in the [post-Soviet] neighborhood as well," Puddington says.
"We see a decline in political conditions in a number of countries in the Russian neighborhood, and we see that as having been in part driven by Putin's diplomacy."
Russia's influence over its post-Soviet neighbors is undeniably significant. Puddington says some countries, particularly the energy-rich Caspian states, are pursuing their own versions of authoritarianism as they seek to break their ties with Moscow. But he adds that ultimately, most of the countries in the region are following the Russian model.
"Countries like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan don't want to be dominated by Russia, and they work to keep their independence; they're not puppets of Russia," Puddington says.
"But they are strongly influenced by Russia; they have political systems that are quite similar to Russia's political system. I think that you're going to see Russia influencing the democratic direction of the whole region for a couple of decades to come."
Disappointment In Central Asia
In the latest survey, Kyrgyzstan -- once the center of pro-democracy hopes in Central Asia -- moved from "partly free" to "not free" category. The downgrade was due, in part, to claims of voter irregularities in the country's July 2009 presidential election, consolidation of power in the executive branch, and new restrictive legislation on freedom of religion.
The setback means the entire region of Central Asia is now rated "not free." Walker says the hopes that bloomed in 2005 for Kyrgyzstan and the region are now history.
"Kyrgyzstan has turned out to be a sour disappointment in terms of political rights and civil liberties, and has trended downwards over the last two years," he says. "This year the consolidation of executive power, and the other issues connected to transparent governance, contributed to the country moving over the threshold from the 'partly free' group into the 'not free.'"
Kazakhstan is another problem country in Central Asia. The energy-rich state witnessed a continued crackdown on journalists and rights activists. This included the case of human rights worker Yevgeny Zhovtis, who last year received a heavy prison sentence for his role in a fatal traffic accident.
Supporters said the sentence was punishment for his activism. Observers like Walker worried that the Zhovtis case and others like it set a worrying tone as Kazakhstan prepared to become the first post-Soviet country to hold the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Walker says the Zhovtis case "was evaluated in tandem with pressure on the news media, including problems with 'Respublika' [newspaper], and other ongoing pressures on the independent sectors in Kazakhstan, which really are at direct odds with the pledges and the spirit of OSCE chairmanship obligations. To the extent that 2009 suggests the standard for Kazakhstan, it really does raise some serious concerns about the country's fitness to hold the chairmanship which it is now assuming."
Azerbaijan is another country that has shown a continuation of very restrictive policies. Walker cited as particularly problematic the trial of bloggers Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, who were subjected to a long pretrial detention and ultimately convicted of hooliganism for an incident in a restaurant after they posted political videos on the Internet.
"This, for many, was a signal both to users of new media as well as to the youth in Azerbaijan to steer clear of the politics in the country at exactly the time when the country needs a more candid conversation about public policies, diversification of the economy, and corruption," Walker says.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan continue to hold the lowest freedom rankings, not only among the countries of the former Soviet Union but globally.
Some Hopeful Signs
In Georgia, Walker says 2009 was a period of relative stability in comparison to the previous two years, which were marked by violent domestic upheaval and a military conflict with Russia:
"There has been an element of easing of the sort of highly polemical environment that we have seen in calendar [year] 2007 and 2008," Walker says. "The coming year will be particularly important to see whether the opposition can begin to build some meaningful alternative programs and to see whether the Saakashvili government can begin to make good on some of its pledges to further democratization in the country."
Ukraine, for all of the flows and challenges that it has confronted since the 2004 Orange Revolution and the election of a pro-Western president, remains an example of some considerable democratic durability.
"The elections that have been held in the country so far since late 2004 have been competitive, they've been plural, they've had a number of different forces involved in the political battles there," Walker says. "And by and large the news media has been able to comment with relative openness on this process."
Outside of the former Soviet Union, one bright spot noted by Walker was Southeastern Europe. There, the status of the newly independent nation Kosovo improved from "not free" to "partly free," due to greater recognition of minority rights and the conduct of its November parliamentary elections, which were generally deemed to be in compliance with international standards.
Montenegro's status moved from "partly free" to "free," due to the successful organization of parliamentary elections in March and progress in adopting anticorruption legislation.
Poland and Ukraine were risky choices - Platini
Since being chosen to co-host the event, both countries have been criticised repeatedly for the slow progress in updating the antiquated infrastructure and delays in building stadiums.
"We should remember that the two states so far have no experience in organising such events. That's why it is a great adventure for us ... a bit risky I'd say," Platini told Przeglad Sportowy in an interview.
In December one of Poland's host cities, Wroclaw, scrapped a deal with Mostostal Warszawa on stadium construction because of delays.
Platini said he believed Wroclaw would be ready on time and had not considered moving matches away from the city.
"I am not considering such a scenario because the information I am getting from Wroclaw shows it's just a change of the builder. Yes, the timing of opening of the new stadium will change, but it will not be a dangerous postponement," he said.
"The stadium was supposed to be ready at the end of 2010 and it will be delayed by a few months."
Wroclaw' mayor said after announcing his decision to scrap the deal with Mostostal that the new stadium would be ready to meet UEFA time deadlines.
Polish Prostitute Fined $820,000 For Evading Taxes
From: Huffington Post
Although prostitution is legal in Poland, organized activities like brothels or pimping are against the law. According to a State Department document, experts estimate that 18,000 to 20,000 women work as prostitutes in the county.
The woman told the tax office in the southern city of Katowice that she had very "generous" customers, the website gazeta.pl, which is linked to leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, reported Tuesday.
One of her clients paid the woman 5 million zlotys during the 1997-2002 period, she was quoted as saying.
The website gave no further details.
Two killed, 16 injured road accident in Poland
The accident occurred on Monday night, when the tanker switched lanes and collided with an oncoming bus, police told the Polish Press Agency PAP. The two vehicles caught fire.
The bus was carrying passengers from Jelenia Gora to Warsaw.
Police said they found two bodies in the burned-out bus. Sixteen people, including the driver of the tanker, were taken to the hospital.
Harsh winter weather causes over 100 train cancellations in Poland
In a related story, Snow, ice and cold caused over 100 train cancellations in Poland, foreign media reported. Thick snow covers roads and rails. Especially harsh the condition is in the south of the country, where 114 flights had to be cancelled on Monday.
Pole stabs partner in Brussels
From: The News
The man is accused of stabbing his partner and wounding a passer-by. The crime was committed on Friday in Schaerbeek district inhabited by many Poles. The woman who was stabbed during an argument died, another woman, who witnessed the crime, is in a critical state.
The killer fled the crime scene but was later detained by police.
Radford's Belarusian big man drawing attention of NBA scouts
|At 6-foot-11, 260 pounds, Artsiom Parakhouski is one of the few true center prospects in college basketball.|
It's a lofty goal, no doubt. But when one reviews the road Parakhouski has traveled so far, there is little reason to believe he can't make it. You may not have heard of him yet, but the NBA sure has.
The Toronto Raptors had a scout at Radford's practice on Monday, in fact, as the 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior continues to play his way onto the radar of a draft lacking center prospects. Parakhouski leads the nation in rebounding at 12.9 per game, is second in field goal percentage at 63.2 percent and third in scoring with 24.1 points per game. He had double-doubles at Duke (23 points, 14 rebounds) and Kansas (21, 13) and has scored in double-figures in every game. NBADraft.net projects the senior to go early in the second round, while DraftExpress.com has Parakhouski as the last pick of the first round -- a spot that would make history in his home country.
"That is my goal," Parakhouski said of the NBA (heavily emphasizing the "N" in his Russian accent). "I'm trying to prove that people in my country can be in the NBA if they want to be."
Wanting to reach the NBA and actually having the talent to do so are two different things, of course. His parents were national-level athletes and coach Belarusian national teams (mother Tatsyana is a swim coach and father Nyckolay track and field) and his sister, Yana, is hoping to swim in the 2012 Olympics. Big Art, as he's known at Radford, played soccer until he was 16, but he literally outgrew the game.
Basketball was the next logical step for a thick, 6-8 high schooler, but Parakhouski had never played the game.
"I was terrible," Parakhouski said. "I couldn't dribble. I couldn't shoot. I couldn't do anything with basketball at that moment."
But he developed some skills, and was spotted at the under-20 European Junior Championships in 2005 by Ali Ton, then an assistant at Binghamton. Ton suggested Parakhouski enroll at the College of Southern Idaho, where he could learn both English and basketball. So the Belarusian bid his family farewell and moved to the U.S. without being able to speak any English.
"The first six months were difficult mentally," Parakhouski said. "Culture was different, people was different, education was different. But I'm not a quitter. I told myself I'm going to the United States and I'm not going home no matter what. I faced my struggles and was not going to let the struggles hold me back."
Ton was hired by Brad Greenberg at Radford when it was time for Parakhouski to choose his next stop, so Parakhouski signed early with the school. Greenberg says if Parakhouski had waited until the end of his second season at Southern Idaho, he would have had some high major offers, but Parakhouski has benefited from being a big fish in the Big South.
"He's been able to be a featured guy for us since Day 1," Greenberg said. "He's getting tremendous experience. If he went somewhere else, he may not have been the No. 1 option on offense or played as many minutes."
Parakhouski led Radford to the NCAA tournament last season and faced Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina in the first round. The Tar Heels won easily and Parakhouski was held to 10 points on 3 of 15 shooting. He is hoping to get another crack on the big stage, one he admittedly had never heard of until two years ago. After facing a grueling nonconference schedule that included Duke, Kansas, Louisville and a tough William & Mary team, Radford is 8-6. But the Highlanders are 4-1 in conference play with a huge Big South game at Coastal Carolina (16-2, 6-0) on Thursday.
Parakhouski says his parents are following his career as best they can and he sends tapes of Radford's games back home. Parakhouski hasn't been back to Belarus in more than two years, but it is a sacrifice he knows he has to make.
"He understands he's not a finished player," said Greenberg, who has spent several years in different capacities in the NBA, including general manager of the 76ers. "He wants to play in the NBA. He realizes it doesn't happen overnight. He's just scratching the surface of what he can become. He wants to get better and better."
A seasonal chill
From: Washington Post
No wonder, then, that as this winter gets cold Mr. Putin has singled out Belarus for punishment. On Jan. 1 Russia cut off part of its supplies of oil to the country, once again raising alarms in Western Europe, which receives large quantities of Russian oil through a pipeline that transits Belarus. The supplies resumed after a couple of days, but Mr. Putin continues to insist that Belarus accept a new supply deal that could cost it as much as $5 billion, or about 10 percent of its gross domestic product.
Of course, Mr. Putin and his spokesmen insist that this is merely a commercial dispute that involves ending Russian subsidies. That's also what they said last January, when Russia shut down gas supplies to Ukraine and then to all of Europe; and in January 2007, when the pipeline to Belarus was closed down; and in January 2006, when there was a previous interruption in gas supplies to Ukraine. Last week, as he did last year, Mr. Putin showily summoned a minister to publicly "report" to him on the conflict -- so there would be no mistake about who in Moscow was managing the matter.
Mr. Putin hasn't given up his dream of restoring Moscow's dominion over the countries of the former Soviet Union -- though, intriguingly, the man he installed as Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, recently denounced what he called "chaotic" foreign policies "dictated by nostalgia and prejudice." For the most part, the heavy-handed tactics have badly backfired. Ukraine may soon elect a president more to Moscow's liking, but it remains an independent democracy. Meanwhile, not just Belarus but also countries such as Azerbaijan, Armenia and even Turkmenistan are scrambling to make friends with the West or with China.
For their part, Western European countries that depend on Russia for energy supplies have just gotten their annual winter wake-up call. Thirty-five percent of Germany's oil imports flow through the Belarus pipeline. Anyone in the German government who still believes Russia can be counted on for those supplies must spend January in the tropics.