Belarus’ Internet usage now regulated, EU cooperation, China, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Weapons mystery; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal...
Belarus’ Internet usage now regulated
|President Alexander Lukashenko delivers his remarks at the opening ceremony for the Minsk-Arena complex.|
The document encourages making information about government agencies and other state-run organizations more accessible. Government agencies, other state-run organizations and business companies with a prevailing share of the state in their authorized funds are obliged to use their official websites to inform visitors about their working hours, postal address, handling of applications, the administrative procedures they perform and other things.
The decree addresses copyright protection in the Web. Fiction, scientific, musical products, photos, pictures and other objects subject to copyright and allied rights that enjoy legal protection in Belarus can be made available in the Internet provided the rights are observed. News posts and/or materials posted by mass media must refer to the original source.
In line with the decree as from 1 July 2010 businesses that provide their products and services in Belarus via the World Wide Web will have to perform these services using Internet data networks, systems and resources which are located in Belarus.
These systems, networks and resources can be registered with the Information Technologies and Communications Ministry or an authorized agency. The government will work out the necessary procedures and regulations by 1 May 2010.
In order to ensure the safety of citizens and the state, as from 1 July 2010 Internet service providers will have to identify devices used by Internet users and keep a record of them and the services rendered.
Following a user’s request an ISP can restrict access of the user’s Internet access device to information of pornographic nature, information designed to incite violence, and other illegal actions.
The decree comes into force on 1 July 2010.
Cooperation with Africa, South America is among Belarus’ priorities
Belarus sees intensification of a constructive dialogue with the countries of Africa and South America as one of its foreign policy priorities, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he received the letters of credence from the ambassadors of 13 countries on 29 January.
According to the head of state, the sides would like to see the bilateral relations expanded and filled up with concrete content. It will help the countries to promote their economic development in the post-crisis period.
The President has stressed that Belarus views Algeria as a friendly state and a promising economic partner in North Africa. “I believe it is high time we started exploring the existing potential of mutually beneficial cooperation and strengthening business ties between the two countries,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
According to the head of state, Belarus would like to establish all-round relations with Sudan. “The implementation of concrete projects will help intensify our cooperation. We hope Sudan will apply the same approach in line with the present agreements including those signed at the highest level,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Belarus pays close attention to the development of the relations with other African countries. “We hope for more dynamic relations at different levels with Mali, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire,” the President stressed.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus considers Peru as a strategic partner in South America. In his words, further development of trade and economic contacts will meet the interests of the two countries. The Belarusian leader believes that the two sides should work on stepping up bilateral trade.
Martynov, Pujol to discuss EU-Belarus cooperation in responding to global crisis
“Of course there is no global recipe for the crisis. But it is important to analyze what is happening and what we can do together to improve the situation,” said Juan Antonio March Pujol.
According to the Spanish diplomat, the European Union can share its experience with Belarus in dealing with the economic problems during a crisis.
The Ambassador did not rule out that some of international workshops of the European Partnership four thematic platforms could be held in Minsk. European high-level officials may travel to Minsk. “You know that the membership of the European Commission has been recently revamped. It is quite possible that new European commissioners would want to include Minsk into the programs of their visits,” the diplomat added.
He also noted that the adoption of common values in understanding the development of the state, free elections and free operation of political parties could help the Belarus-EU dialogue.
The Ambassador also praised the successes of the Eastern Partnership initiative for the past six months. “Belarus has submitted quite a few projects for the financing within the Eastern Partnership framework. This is a good result we could only dream of a year ago,” Juan Antonio March Pujol said. The Ambassador of Spain reminded the reporters that the preparatory work is currently underway to implement the Eastern Partnership joint projects. With active participation of Belarus, the sides are preparing the cooperation projects in such areas as power engineering, border protection, education, standardization, ecology, he said.
UK Ambassador welcomes death penalty debate in Belarusian society
Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Belarus Rosemary Thomas welcomes the vigorous public debate on the use of death penalty in Belarus. She made this statement at a press conference in Minsk on 2 February, BelTA has learnt.
“Apart from that, we welcome the Decree of the President of Belarus that lifts the restrictions on recuperation trips of Belarusian children living in the Chernobyl affected areas,” the diplomat said.
“We believe that Belarus is to make the next move in the dialogue with the EU. It is Minsk that sets the pace of this dialogue,” Rosemary Thomas said.
The UK has been authorized by Spain to represent the interests of the EU presiding country in Belarus. Spain took over the presidency in this organization on 1 January 2010 and will step down on 30 June 2010.
Belarus’ Foreign Ministry: visit of EC delegation will boost Belarus-EU dialogue
The Belarusian side view as positive the results of the working visit of a delegation of the Directorate-General for Trade of the European Commission to the Republic of Belarus and considers it will give a further impetus for the dialogue between Belarus and the EU on the whole range of issues of the bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus told BelTA while commenting on the results of the visit of the EC delegation led by Deputy Director General of the EC Directorate-General for Trade Peter Balasz.
The two sides negotiated a wide range of issues concerning the trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and the European Union. In particular, the European Commission was informed on the new opportunities to step up the EU export of goods and services which will open up as the Customs Union is formed.
The parties assessed it positively that as the concept of the Customs Union was being shaped up in 2007 the governments of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan selected the EU’s customs union as a fundamental model, which is yet the only efficient and solid customs union across the globe, the Foreign Ministry said.
The negotiators made it known that any digressions from the model would bring a dramatic deformation to the Customs Union now under way and trigger distortions generating unequal conditions for the businesses of three countries. In this regard, the parties underscored the need to build up a customs union encompassing Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in strict compliance with international standards and principles.
The negotiation brought more focus of the European Commission to the need that a Most Favorable Treatment regime should be reinstated by the European Union for the Republic of Belarus, legislative and institutional fundamentals created to bring in stronger economic relations between the EU and Belarus.
Currently, the EU keeps high import customs duties going for a number of key Belarusian exports (trucks, haulage tractors, cheese, cream, milk, butter, sugar, beef and others). Moreover, as the Republic of Belarus was withdrawn from the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences, the Belarusian exporters have sustained an extra economic loss (nearly $300 million annually).
In view of this, Belarus urged the European Commission to lift current discriminatory restrictions in bilateral trade, including EU’s autonomous export quotas for several types of Belarus textiles and clothes.
Gratitude was extended to the experts of the European Commission’s Directorate General in charge of health care and consumer protection for the work carried out with Belarusian specialists in securing vet permissions for the Belarusian enterprises in the exports of dairy and meat products to the EU.
Special importance was given to the additional inspection mission of the EC’s experts to Belarus on 18–29 January 2010 due to assess the compliance of Belarusian milk produce with the European standards and forthcoming inspection missions of the EC in March-June 2010 to appraise the quality of Belarusian poultry farming.
The Belarusian party called upon the European Commission to work jointly to generate most transparent and open borders for businesses between the Customs Union and the EU to ensure fast movement of goods and encourage mutual trade. In this context Belarus’ interest was stressed to become involved in a pilot project involving a provisional exchange of SPEED customs information, that is in place now between the EU and Russia.
The negotiations saw an open and substantive talk with the EU, for the first time in the past few years, regarding the Belarus’ accession to the WTO. The Belarusian side welcomed the European Commission’s intention to enhance the negotiation and indicated its readiness to provide more details of the economic and trade policies of Belarus, including decisions adopted within the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.
The parties have also agreed that this exchange of information would be instrumental in the negotiations about the EU recognition of the Belarusian economy market status.
The Belarusian side positively regards the results of the working visit to Belarus of the senior officials of the EC’s Directorate General for Trade and deems it as another impetus to a more active dialogue between Belarus and the EU on the whole range of pressing bilateral issues of trade and economy.
Vitebsk State University, Huh Hoto Professional Institute to set up Belarus-China University
This proposal was put forward during the visit of a delegation of the Vitebsk-based university to China in 2009 and was upheld by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to China Anatoly Tozik. At present Vitebsk specialists provide support to the Chinese institute which is undergoing accreditation to get a university status. After the accreditation is passed, Belarus and China will embark on the implementation of a large-scale educational project.
Apart from that, in 2010 the two educational institutions will launch the joint training of students using the 3+3 system. Chinese citizens will study music and art at Huh Hoto Insitute for three years, after that they will continue their studies at Vitebsk State University for another two years plus one year of master’s program. The two educational establishments will develop a joint curriculum. Apart from that, there are plans to teach the Russian language at the Chinese institute. Vitebsk State University is considering a possibility to launch a new branch of study, Russian for foreigners, at the Philological Department as there is a high demand for studying the Russian language by Chinese specialists. The administration of the Chinese institute proposed to build a dormitory for Chinese students in Vitebsk. One of the promising cooperation avenues is the organization of excursions in Belarus and China for the tourists of the two countries.
In line with the development concept for 2010-2015, Vitebsk State University intends to expand the export of educational services. The university intends to increase the enrollment of foreign students. It plans to launch promotion campaigns, the most promising partners being Syria, Turkey, China, India and Turkmenistan.
Vitebsk State University enrolled first foreign students in 2000. Over this time, the university has trained foreign citizens from seven countries. At present, almost 170 students from Russia, Ukraine, China, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Estonia study at the university.
Belarus to develop press cooperation with Turkmenistan, Venezuela
The development of the international cooperation in the area of information and press is one of the overriding goals of the Information Ministry of Belarus. The ministry has already developed bilateral agreements in the area of information and press, first of all, with the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Belarus has been steadily developing this kind of cooperation with the Russian Federation. The two countries have worked on the 2007-2010 action plan to create the Union State single information space.
The Information Ministry of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Communication and Mass Media of the Russian Federation has also drafted a new intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the area of television, radio broadcasting and press.
Belarus has been developing information cooperation with the regions of Russia in line with the protocols on information and press cooperation as well as within the framework of the joint cooperation programs.
Last year the Information Ministry of Belarus signed and implemented an action plan with the State Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee of Ukraine. The participation of the Belarusian and Ukrainian publishers, printing companies in the professional exhibitions, for instance, in the Minsk, Kiev international book fairs and the national exhibition of the Republic of Belarus in Odessa has boosted the cooperation between the two countries.
The Republic of Kazakhstan was an honorary guest at the 16th Minsk International Book Fair. In 2009 Belarus took part as an honorary guest in the International Book Fair in Ashgabat.
FEZ Vitebsk investment fund doubles in 2009
The annual task was overfulfilled by almost 2.5 times. The direct foreign investments made up $13.8 million.
Capital investments stood at Br54.6 billion, almost one third more than it was planned. FEZ residents injected about Br50.1 billion in the construction and upgrading of the production grounds. The FEZ Vitebsk utilized Br4.5 billion from the national budget to develop its infrastructure. Thus, distribution substations with 10kv cable power transmission lines were put on stream in the FEZ last year.
The FEZ residents manufactured Br579 billion worth of products. The production growth made up 92.8%. The proceeds from the sales of goods and services increased by 12.4% from 2008 to make up Br745 billion. The foreign trade amounted to $234.9 million, the profitability of sold products totaled 10.5%.
FEZ Vitebsk was founded in August 1999. There are 34 residents in the free economic zone. The majority of them are engaged in the engineering and woodworking areas, food, chemical, fuel and light industries. The FEZ total personnel reach 8,000 professionals. The FEZ Vitebsk territory exceeds 1,200 hectares.
Belarusbank raises $60m syndicated loan
Belarusbank is attracting a syndicated loan to the tune of $60 million, BelTA learnt from the bank.
The agreement on the syndicated loan was signed on 29 January 2009. This syndicated loan is sixth in Belarusbank’s history. Belarusbank is the first Belarusian loan debtor to enter the international borrowing market in 2010. Belarusbank has sgot positive reviews from foreign investors and the loan has been almost twice oversubscribed.
The primary mandated lead arrangers of the loan were Intesa Sanpaolo S.p.A. (Italy), VTB Bank (Russia). The other arrangers are the OTP Group (represented by OTP Bank Plc., Budapest and OTB Bank in Moscow), Alfa-Bank (Russia) and VTB Bank (Deutschland) AG (Germany).
“The project of Belarusbank has been implemented in the unstable and shaky environment of the international financial market. This project shows that foreign investors are still interested in Belarusian borrowers,” said a representative of the arranger bank.
Belarusbank is planning to increase its presence on the international financial market and keep attracting foreign funds in the Belarusian economy to provide economic growth and achieve the predicted figures of Belarus’ social and economic development and monetary policy guidelines for 2010.
Lidskoe Pivo export up 2.3 times in 2009
The Lida-based brewery exported 233,000 decaliters in 2009, 2.3 times up from the previous year, BelTA learnt from the company.
Last year the beer sales to the Baltic states considerably grown and accounted for 29.2% of the total. “The sales increased without extra injections in the advertising. We avoided additional expenditure on the marketing to minimize the cost of the product and preserve its competitiveness in price,” Director General Audrius Miksys said.
Last year the brewery was able to increase the export of other beverages as well. The company’s international quality management certificate ISO 22000:2005 contributed to the further advancement of soft and low-alcohol drinks, beer, kvass and potable water to the foreign markets.
In 2009 the kvass export grew 76.5% from 2008. The product is delivered to seven neighboring markets including Latvia, Estonia and Germany. The export of soft drinks soared 2.7 times (to Russia, Germany and Latvia).
The Lidskoe Pivo production was stable despite a slowdown on the Belarus’ beer market last year. The company produced 4.704 million deciliters of beer, 9% up from 2008. Olvi plc of Finland acquires an 87.5% stake in the Lidskoe Pivo brewery.
Additional reserves for the company’s growth are seen in the Local Premium segment. With the new Lidskoe PREMIUM launched in November 2009, the company has already increased its share in the Local Premium segment by 8%.
Lida brewery plant was built in 1876. In 2000 it was transformed into an open joint stock company (OAO). The company makes beer, kvass, juice drinks, soft drinks and low-alcohol drinks, potable water. Olvi plc acquired a controlling stake in Lidskoe Pivo last year.
Belarus to further tighten Internet control
From: Deutsche Welle
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has signed an order to further monitor Internet use in the country dubbed by critics as Europe's last dictatorship.
"To ensure the security of the state and it's citizens, from July 1, 2010 Internet service providers will be required to identify devices used to connect to the Internet and keep information on those devices and the services provided," the new decree reads.
Under the decree personal data and profiles of Internet users will be collected and service providers can be asked to block access to any website within 24 hours.
The country's authoritarian regime has justified its decision by quoting a need to "fight against everything illegal and to improve the security of the this country and its citizens."
The country's opposition has denounced the move as yet another attack on the freedom of speech and information designed to shut them out from any media access ahead of next year's election.
'An enemy of the internet'
The move further tightens the government's grip on communications in the country. In January, Lukashenko authorized an analysis center to define what information could be made available on the Internet and to monitor traffic.
Reporters Without Borders has strongly criticized the analysis center, saying the move would make the country "fall to the level of North Korea and China … as an enemy of the Internet."
The Internet has been a key source of information in Belarus as most independent newspapers, television and radio stations have been closed down during Lukashenko's 15 years in power.
North Korean weapons mystery continues
From: Washington Post
|Kayasit Pissawongprakan, Director General of the Office of the Thai Attorney General, center, is surrounded by reporters after a news conference at his office in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Jan. 29, 2010. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban refused on comment on the pending decision by public prosecutors to drop all charges related the arms smuggling case from North Korea while Thai court on Friday extended another 12-day prison term for crew of plane carrying weapons from North Korea. The five men crew comprising four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus, was arrested in Bangkok on Dec. 12, 2009.|
Thai authorities seized the Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane and its five-man crew as it landed to refuel on a flight from Pyongyang Dec. 12. Found on board were 35 tons of weapons.
A Thai government report to the U.N. Security Council, leaked to reporters in New York over the weekend, said the aircraft, which had violated U.N. sanctions against North Korea, was bound for Tehran's Mahrabad Airport.
But Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayarkorn said Monday that "to say that the weapons are going to Iran, that might be inexact."
"The report only says where the plane was going to according to its flight plan, but it doesn't say where the weapons were going to," he said. "It's still under investigation, and the suspects are under our legal system."
The five-man crew - four from Kazakhstan and one from Belarus - remain under detention. The crew has been charged with illegal arms possession, but the charges are expected to be stiffened once the investigation wraps up, police have said.
The weapons found on board the aircraft were reportedly light battlefield arms, including grenades - hardly the ones Iran's sophisticated military would need.
From the start there has been speculation that the weapons were to be shipped on to some of the radical Middle Eastern groups supported by Tehran.
The U.N. imposed sanctions in June banning North Korea from exporting any arms after the communist regime conducted a nuclear test and test-fired missiles. Impoverished North Korea is believed to earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling missiles, missile parts and other weapons to countries such as Iran, Syria and Myanmar.
Investigations by The Associated Press in several countries showed the flight was facilitated by a web of holding companies and fake addresses from New Zealand to Barcelona designed to disguise the movement of the weapons.
The plane's chief pilot maintains that the aircraft was headed for Kiev, Ukraine.
"I never said or confirmed the plane was routed to Iran. I only know that the plane was going to Ukraine and the cargo was to have been unloaded there. That's the information I have," the crew's Thai lawyer, Somsak Saithong, told The Associated Press on Monday.
He said the prosecutor will have to decide whether to drop the case or send the five for trial before Feb. 11, when their detention period expires. After seeing his clients, Saithong said all continued to insist they did not know the contents of the cargo they were flying.
Telekom Austria unit granted Belarus 3G licence
From: Total Telecom
Telekom Austria on Tuesday announced its Belarusian subsidiary has been awarded a countrywide 3G licence.
The operator paid €9.5 million for the UMTS licence, which runs until 24 August 2017.
Telekom Austria said it has already begun upgrading Velcom's mobile network to support 3G services at a rate of 10 base stations per day.
The telco was awarded 5 MHz of 3G spectrum in October 2009 along with its closest rival and Belarus' largest mobile operator MTS Belarus, but lacked an operating licence for 3G.
Turkcell's Belarusian unit Life – which was called BeST when it was acquired by the Turkish operator for $500 million in 2008 – was first to be allocated 3G frequencies in late July 2009.
MTS currently has the largest share of the market with 4.52 million subscribers at the end of the third quarter ended 30 September 2009. Velcom comes a close second reporting 4 million customers at the end of the same period. Life had 0.8 million subscribers at the end of Q3 2009.
Mobile penetration in Belarus currently stands at just under 95%, according to Telekom Austria.
Meanwhile Velcom has been selling mobile broadband services to its customers in Belarus after striking a reseller deal with CDMA operator Belcel in May 2009.
The 50-50 revenue sharing agreement saw Velcom offer Internet services running on Belcel's EV-DO network, which at the time was capable of supporting connection speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps.
Under the terms of the original deal, Velcom took control of Belcel's retail mobile broadband sales and customer services operation, leaving Belcel in charge of running the infrastructure side of the business.
Belarus Jails South African For 13 Years For Failed Bank Heist
|A police photograph taken after Dirk Prinsloo's arres|
The trial found him guilty of trying to rob the Baranavichi branch of Belarus Bank on June 12, as well as hooliganism. Prinsloo had to flee the bank empty-handed after a bank worker called police.
Prinsloo is wanted in his homeland for alleged sex crimes, including pedophilia. He came to Belarus from South Africa in 2006.
Colonel Mikhail Starykovich, the chief of Interpol's office in Belarus, told journalists on February 1 that if he were found guilty Prinsloo could spend part of his sentence in Belarus and later be extradited to South Africa.
PACE Head: Respect for democratic values is not special terms for Belarus
From: Charter '97
Respect for such fundamental values as democracy, human rights and rule of law are not special conditions for Belarus, but are universal criteria for all countries. It has been stated in an interview to BelaPAN by Mevlüt Çavusoglu, PACE President.
“We would like to see progress in Belarus, to see movement towards our values,” he said. “Holding elections in Belarus could become an important signal, as holding transparent and democratic elections are some of our criteria”.
As said by Mr Çavusoglu, if the PACE receives an invitation from the Belarusian side to take part in the lection observation, the Bureau of the Assembly “would seriously discuss such a possibility”. “I am sure that the reaction to the invitation would be positive”.
He underlined however that in order to recognize the election as democratic, it should be “open, transparent, honest”. “The pre-election campaign is important as well. Everybody should have equal rights in registration, access to mass media. In its turn, the press should be objective to all candidates,” Çavusoglu emphasized.
He noted that the PACE practices sending a mission to evaluate the pre-election conditions in the country. “The mission consists of one member from each of the major political parties represented in the PACE, that is 5 persons. Sometimes we expand the mission for two members from each party for a large or a problem country. Such a mission drafts a preliminary report in which it is said what should be corrected before the elections. It seems to me that it is a good practice, when we tell in advance about existing shortcomings and give a possibility to amend them,” said the PACE President.
Chairperson of Central Election Commission distorts norms of electoral legislation
That’s why, according to the law and contrary to the demand of the CEC Chairperson, state organs should determine the places that are prohibited for picketing, not the places that are allowed for it.
Moreover, this norm of the Electoral Code is twice repeated by the Central Election Commission, in its Ruling #10 on 21 January 2010 On explaining the use of provisions of Articles 61 and 65 regulating the collection of citizen’s signatures in support of the persons who are proposed for nomination as candidates to the local deputy Soviets of the 26th Convocation, and in the Timing Schedule of organizational measures on preparing and holding the elections.
According to the Timing Schedule, the places that are ‘banned for picketing with the aim of collecting electors’ signatures for nomination of candidates to deputies of the local Soviets’ must be determined by 12 February 2010 inclusive, whereas Lidziya Yarmoshyna calls another date, 14 February.
Human rights defenders believe that such discrepancies between the words of the CEC Chairperson and provisions of the electoral legislation demand a special attention.
’As a result, there can occur artificial limitation of the places where such signatures can be conducted. For instance, an executive committee can determine three places for picketing where the picketing is allowed, which means that it will be prohibited in all other places. Thus, executive committees must follow the legal requirements and determine the places where picket is banned. In all other places it must be allowed,’ emphasizes Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center Viasna.
US, Russia in nuclear arms cuts deal: newspaper
|Dmitry Medvedev (L) and Barack Oabama|
State Department officials could not immediately confirm the report which said the two sides agreed to lower the ceiling for deployed nuclear weapons from the 2,200 decided on in 1991 to between 1,500 and 1,675.
It would mark a breakthrough in months of negotiations to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which led to deep cuts in both nuclear arsenals after it was signed in 1991 before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Wall Street Journal, citing administration and arms control officials, said US and Russian arms control negotiators reached an "agreement in principle" on the nuclear arms reduction pact.
It said that the deal, in addition to reducing deployed nuclear weapons, would lower nuclear delivery systems more sharply to between 700 and 800 a side.
The breakthrough in the negotiations came two weeks ago when National Security Adviser James Jones and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, went to Moscow to overcome stumbling blocks, it said.
Those involved two issues on verification, sharing information on missile flight tests and inspections at missile production plants, it said.
The Wall Street Journal said the agreement was approved in principle last week during a telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Question arose as to whether the START talks were in trouble after negotiators missed a December 5 deadline.
Nor was there a deal by January 1, even though Obama's White House said on December 17 that it still aimed to "conclude a good and verifiable (START) agreement by the end of the year."
However, analysts said negotiators were under pressure to clinch a pact in the run-up to a May review conference for the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which obliges the nuclear powers to show progress on disarmament.
Russia Bomb Hurts Rail Worker
No carriages were attached to the engine, which was used to check and repair lineside equipment. But the blast will fuel fears of attacks on Russia's railways two months after a bomb killed 26 passengers on a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
"We consider it a terrorist act, that's the main theory," Interfax news agency quoted Anatoly Kvashnin, head of a regional investigative department for transport systems, as saying of Tuesday's explosion. There was no word on possible suspects.
The federal Investigative Committee said the bomb exploded with the force of 200 grammes of TNT at most, and left a metre-wide crater on the railbed but did not damage the engine.
The blast occurred before dawn near St. Petersburg's Baltic Station, on a line to Belarus, rail monopoly Russian Railways said. It said the engine operator suffered a leg injury.
In November, a bomb exploded on tracks between Russia's largest cities. Islamic militants from Russia's North Caucasus claimed responsibility for the attack on the Nevsky Express and vowed further "acts of sabotage." No major attacks followed.
Traffic was halted on Tuesday on part of the line near the blast site, Russian Railways said.
Ukraine and Russia Trade Spying Charges
From: New York Times
The announcement came less than a week before a presidential runoff election in Ukraine and might stir new tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which have had a contentious relationship in recent years.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the Ukrainian intelligence chief, said the Russians were detained on Jan. 27 “trying to illegally obtain Ukrainian secrets through blackmail and threats.”
“They were caught red-handed,” Mr. Nalyvaichenko said, according to Ukrainian news agencies.
The Ukrainian president, Viktor A. Yushchenko, has repeatedly quarreled with the Kremlin. He lost his bid for another term in an election last month. The two candidates vying in the presidential runoff on Sunday — Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko and the opposition leader, Viktor F. Yanukovich — have promised to improve relations with Moscow.
Espionage cases are often handled without publicity through diplomatic channels, so the Ukrainian disclosure of this one suggested that Mr. Yushchenko’s government wanted to focus attention on Russian activities on Ukrainian soil.
The Ukrainian announcement brought an unusual public rebuke from the Russian intelligence agency, the F.S.B., which expressed surprise that its Ukrainian counterpart, the S.B.U., had not sought to resolve the case “through cooperation between special services,” Russian news agencies reported.
The F.S.B. rarely discusses spying matters openly, but it said in a statement that it had acted to defend itself because of spying by Ukraine.
The Russian agency said that in October, it arrested a Ukrainian intelligence agent at a Russian military site in a separatist region of Moldova, another former Soviet republic. He was carrying a digital camera and scans of documents marked “top secret.”
The man then apparently agreed to work as a double agent and help the Russians learn about Ukrainian spying against Russia, Russian officials said. He was scheduled to meet the Russian agents in the Odessa region of Ukraine to hand over information when they were arrested, the officials said.
Yanukovich claims ‘Polish interference’ in Ukraine election planned
From: The News
In an astonishing outburst in the week leading up to the second round of the Ukrainian presidential elections, Yanukovich was quoted by Interfax, Monday, as saying: “We have been informed that so-called election monitors from Poland and Lithuania are on their way to Ukraine. Several boats from Georgia are also coming to Odessa.”
Yanukovich, leader of the party of the Regions who won the first round of the presidential election on January 17, and is going head-to-head with Yulia Tymoshenko is the second round on Sunday, said that outside influences were trying to interfere with the ballot at the invitation of his rival.
“It’s obvious that these are fighters who are coming to Ukraine to help Tymoshenko,” said Yanukovych.
Yanukovich – who gains most of his support from Russian speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country and is in favour of closer ties with Russia - added that the Ukrainian boarder guards, security service and Defence Ministry were informed about the alleged threat. Yanukovych warned that if the authorities do not act against the intruders, the Party of Regions will mobilize its forces to fight against them.
“We’re going to show them what it means to be Ukrainian,” said Yanukovych.
During the ballot on 17 January almost 2,000 Georgians came to eastern Ukraine and tried to register as election monitors. However, the Central Electoral Committee rejected their request. Yanukovych then accused Yulia Tymoshenko of hiring mercenaries sent by Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili to destabilize the country.
In the first round of the presidential elections, Victor Yanukovych received 35.32 percent of votes and Yulia Tymoshenko 25.05 percent. Over 3,000 people from countries other than Georgia participated in the first round of the Ukrainian elections as election monitors.
Yanukovich’s election as president in 2004 led to widespread street protests in what came to be known as the Orange Revolution, amid accusations of vote-rigging. The election was subsequently re-run and won by Viktor Yushchenko.
Polish homeless shack up in Brussels
From: The News
They do not want any help and prefer to be left alone but their presence in the little-used arcade has already attracted the attention of the local media and law enforcement bodies. The police have tried twice to liquidate the makeshift ‘village’ but the homeless refused to move.
In an effort to escape rain and cold, they set up camp in a passageway linking two small streets in the center of the Belgian capital. The homeless sleep, rest, smoke and drink alcohol lying on neatly made beds of blankets and sleeping bags.
“We don’t need anything, all we need is to be left alone,” – a Polish woman, who has been living in the passageway for several months now, told the Polish news agency PAP. She said there are Poles in the group, but also Czechs and citizens of former Soviet republics. She refused to say what brought her to Belgium in the first place.
Some locals though want the homeless immigrants to leave. “They are nice, they say hello and behave quietly, but they should not be here,” a street cleaner said, adding that the city authorities should provide a toilet for the homeless.
A cashier from a nearby supermarket looks on at the homeless with pity.
“They sometimes come here with small amounts of cash but they never buy food, only alcohol. They are young, poor people who simply did not make it… We have no problems with them, they don’t steal, we don’t mind their presence, but it’s too bad that they don’t eat and have nowhere to go to wash themselves,” the cashier said.
Some customers buy food for the homeless in the supermarket. Others bring them bread and soup.
An estimated 100,000 Poles live in Belgium.
Polish bishop apologizes for Holocaust interview
From: The News
“I was wrong to suggest that the interview which I gave to Mr. Bruno Volpe for Pontifex.com [published on 25 January] was misquoted by him," wrote one of Poland’s most prominent religious figures. Bishop Pieronek explained that he accused the Italian journalist of having manipulated his remarks before actually checking the interview on Pontifex.com.
The Polish bishop admitted that in the interview for the Italian web site - which caused outrage among some in Israel and the wider Jewish community - he did say that the “Shoah was a Jewish invention,”and that his choice of words was very unfortunate. But they doe not represent his views on Holocaust, he said.
“What I meant was that the word “Shoah" was a Jewish invention used by a renowned American-Jewish writer and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Holocaust, a horrendous genocide, was, in fact, invented and carried out by the Nazi Germany," wrote the bishop.
Pieronek also apologized to Pontifex.com. “I apologize to Mr. Volpe and everyone who felt offended by my unintentionally misfortunate statement. I had no intention to falsify history or accuse anyone of ill will.”
Top 10 most wanted cars by Polish thieves
From: The News
Almost 17,000 cars were stolen in Poland last year. Most of them were German and Japanese vehicles but the good-old Polish Fiat was also a target of thieves in Poland.
According to police, Polish thieves stole mainly Volkswagen Passat and Golf - over 3,000 of them, in fact, Audi A4 and A6 - almost 1,000 - then Skoda Oktavia and Toyota Corolla.
“Surprisingly, the Polish Fiat 126p is still popular loot of Polish thieves, who strip it down it and sell the parts,” says Agnieszka Hamelusz from the Police Headquarters.
Ford Focus and Escort and Toyota Avensis were also frequently stolen.
Police claim that cars are usually stolen by professional thieves, who specialize in stealing a particular make of car.
Theft, however, is becoming more high tech the further up the quality chain you go. In order to steal brand new and luxurious cars thieves usually hack onboard computers or jam alarm systems, rarely stealing car keys or breaking windows.
And insurance scams are growing in number. “Recently more and more people report a car theft in order to wheedle money from insurance companies,” says Hamelusz.
Alexander Lukashenko: Minsk-Arena will enhance Belarus’ image as sports European state
“By opening this magnificent cultural and sports center we are opening a new and, I am sure, a bright page in the history of the Belarusian sports. We have set up a strong bastion that would help us clinch great victories at the world’s sports arenas, would become a good starting-point for the champions-to-be. The center will also become a favorite place for the Belarusians, beautify the capital and improve Belarus’ image as a sports European state,” the head of state said.
According to the President, great attention is given to the development of sports in the country. “I think that sport in Belarus has become a lifestyle already,” the Belarusian leader believes. Alexander Lukashenko was glad to note that the country has recently taken a decent place in the world’s sports elite and reached the leading position in the sports facility construction. Over the decade some twenty large sports facilities have been constructed across the country. Among them are ice arenas, swimming pools, ski centers, multifunctional sports centers both in large towns and small settlements.
Alexander Lukashenko stressed that despite the crisis and present-day challenges, Belarus has been erecting sports facilities for improving the health of the nation and enhancing the living standards of the Belarusian people. “I have already told my people and especially those who criticized us for the construction of too many sports facilities that any sovereign and independent state should create its symbols of sovereignty and independence; and it has never been cheap. But it is not about money, it is about health that cannot be bought. Health “is bought” here with intensive and hard work,” the head of state emphasized. “I am sure we will take pride in this center and show that we are able to construct such objects by ourselves,” he added.
Minsk-Arena is a unique center developed with the help of the latest technologies. It is the largest sports facility in Europe. The President also pointed to a relatively short period of time spent on its construction. Minsk-Arena is to host the 2014 IIHF World Ice Hockey Championship.
Parakhouski Hits Milestones in Radford's 111-84 Win Over VMI
From: Radford U
Parakhouski’s single-game rebounding effort topped Aaron Gill’s 21 in a game.
After needing just 55 games to become Radford’s 26th 1,000-point scorer, Parakhouski hit the milestone with his basket at the 15:28 mark that tied the game at 12-12. He matched the sixth-fewest games in Big South history to reach 1,000 points.
The 6-foot-11 senior had his 18th double-double of the season by halftime and posted the first 30-point, 20-rebound performance in school history.
"We played a hard game and won, and it's all about the 'W'," Parakhouski said. "VMI always plays hard and we just have to do more against them, and we did."
"Art had a monster box score," head coach Brad Greenberg said. "And he did those things courtesy of a lot of good passes from a lot of people. He also did it working aggressively on the offensive glass."
NOTES: Parakhouski is the fastest (55 games) in school history to hit the 1,000-point mark… Parakhouski’s 20-point/20-rebound performance is his second of the season and third in school history (Andrey Savtchenko – at Purdue 11/21/2001) … Parakhouski has scored in double figures in 24 straight contests … Parakhouski is the 10th player in Radford men’s basketball history with 1,000 points and 600 rebounds … Parakhouski has recorded a 10-point/10-rebound effort in the first half alone five times this season …
Five universities of Minsk get ‘trees of friendship’ from Israeli Embassy
“As we have no opportunity to plant a tree on this day we have deiced to gift it to five universities of Minsk,” Olga Polishchuk said. ‘Trees of friendship’ (indoor exotic palm-trees) have been given today to Belarusian State Teachers’ Training University named after Maxim Tank, Belarusian State University, Belarusian State University of Culture and Arts, Belarusian State Medical University and Shirokov Institute of Modern Knowledge.
When presenting the ‘tree of friendship’ to rector of Belarusian State University Sergei Ablameiko, Olga Polishchuk expressed hope “that it will be the beginning of good relations and cooperation”. On his part, Sergei Ablameiko said that Belarusian State University has developed good relations with universities of Israel. The university teaches Hebrew and culture of Israel at the cultorolgy and foreign languages department. Every year several students go to the University of Jerusalem for training courses. “We want to see our relations grow stronger. There are many people in Belarus who would like to study Hebrew, Israeli culture,” Sergei Ablameiko said. He presented the book “Unexpected Belarus” to the Israeli cultural and information center.
The Israeli cultural and information center held the first event of the kind last year when it presented the palm-tree to the central botanical gardens in Minsk. Next year the center plans to give ‘trees of friendship’ to several more universities, Olga Polishchuk told BelTA. The Israeli cultural and information center maintains close links with the universities of Minsk, conducts joint cultural projects on a regular basis.
Russia’s Evolution, Seen Through Golden Arches
From: New York Times
|A McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow. On Monday, the company celebrated the 20th anniversary of the opening of its first store in the Soviet Union.|
Mr. Semenov’s assistant turned it down. One restaurant was too small an order.
“I said, ‘My friend! You see how many McDonald’s there are in the West?’ ” Mr. Semenov recalled recently. “I said, ‘Sell them lettuce at any price. It’s our new strategy.’ ”
With that, Mr. Semenov started a company that has all but cornered the market on packaged fresh vegetables in Russia.
With a buy-one-get-one-free deal on hamburgers and a traditional Russian accordion band, McDonald’s celebrated on Monday the 20th anniversary of the opening of its first store in the Soviet Union, a restaurant that drew long lines.
But the company celebrated a different milestone earlier this year by outsourcing the last product — hamburger buns — it had made at a proprietary factory outside Moscow called McComplex. It was built before the chain opened its first restaurant. Nearly everywhere else, McDonald’s buys ingredients, rather than making its own. But in the Soviet Union, there simply were no private businesses to supply the 300 or so distinct ingredients needed by a McDonald’s outlet.
Everything — from frozen French fries to pie filling — had to be made from scratch at a sprawling factory.
McDonald’s is always a good lens through which to view the 118 or so countries where it operates. In the 20 years since McDonald’s arrived in Russia, enough private enterprises have sprung up to supply nearly every ingredient needed to operate one of its restaurants.
Today, private businesses in Russia supply 80 percent of the ingredients in a McDonald’s, a reversal from the ratio when it opened in 1990 and 80 percent of ingredients were imported.
Starting with pickles, which now come from the farm of Anatoly M. Revyakin, every item has been spun off from the nine production lines at McComplex, spawning dozens of new businesses, some now among the most successful in the Russian food catering industry.
Buns and pies are still made at the McComplex site, but by an independent contractor; the building is for sale.
“Our goal is to put the business in the hands of independent suppliers,” Jim Skinner, the global chief executive of McDonald’s, said in an interview.
Mr. Revyakin, a cucumber farmer in 1990, went on to become the Pickle King of Russian processed food after taking over the marinating line from McComplex; he now sells pickles to three restaurant chains and is moving into relish for Heinz.
“We make $2 million a year selling cucumbers,” he said in a phone interview.
Mr. Semenov’s shredded lettuce business, Belaya Dacha, already accustomed to working with Western companies from the McDonald’s contract, exploded when Western-style supermarkets arrived in Russia in the last decade, bringing coolers capable of displaying prepackaged salads. He now sells 150 types of salad and is the lettuce magnate of Russia.
And after his business success, Mr. Semenov has gone into politics, serving in Parliament with the ruling United Russia party.
Dairy went to Wimm-Bill-Dann, a milk and juice packager that became the first Russian food company to list on the New York Stock Exchange, in 2002.
Just last year, a Russian company, Miratorg, took over supplying Chicken McNuggets. It could hardly have come at a better time for McDonald’s — a trade war is threatening to cut off the importation of chicken into Russia.
Today, frozen French fries are still imported, oddly enough, given that Russians are famous for growing potatoes. The problem, though is finding economy of scale in processing, McDonald’s executives said. Russians still buy raw potatoes at supermarkets, instead of processed frozen potatoes. Until frozen potatoes catch on, McDonald’s alone cannot provide the volumes needed to open a processing plant.
From the day it opened the gates on the $50 million factory, McDonald’s had intended to hand out its functions to other businesses and eventually shut it down, said Khamzat Khasbulatov, the director of McDonald’s in Russia.
Arms-length transactions for supplies allow McDonald’s to step back from the interaction of franchisees and food-processing companies, sparing them a headache. Russia’s 235 restaurants have not yet been franchised.
“We knew from Day 1 that our goal was to outsource all its functions,” Mr. Khasbulatov said.
Today the restaurants in Russia employ 25,000 people, a number far eclipsed by the businesses in McDonald’s supply chain, which employ 100,000, Mr. Khasbulatov said.
Even as it leaned on the proprietary factory in its early years, the McDonald’s Russia operation, quick on its feet out of necessity to keep up with all the changes, has also been on the leading edge of other global business initiatives.
The worldwide pushback against coffee chains, for example, had an early test run here. McCafés opened here in 2003 and espresso-style drinks are available in many restaurants; the concept was introduced in America last year.
For McDonald’s, bringing Russia in line with its horizontal business model is more important than ever because the country is an important market and its same-store sales are growing fast. The overseas business is generally leading both in the number of restaurant openings and growth in sales at existing restaurants.
Russian restaurants are on average twice as busy as those in the United States, with 850,000 visitors a year per site compared with 400,000 domestically.
McDonald’s plans to invest $150 million in Russia this year to open 45 new restaurants and refurbish current sites.
And that is good news for suppliers, too; those outlets will need a lot of shredded lettuce.