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Alexander Lukashenko: Customs Union should fully meet Belarus’ interests
|Meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Arab Emirates to the Republic of Belarus Mohamed Alraeesi|
The press service of the Belarus President told BelTA, the report was presented by Belarus’ Co-chairman of the Customs Union Commission, Belarus Vice Premier Andrei Kobyakov. Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Leonid Anfimov also took part in the meeting.
“I am actually interested in one key question: to what degree does this union and the proposals made during your talks in Moscow meet the interests of Belarus, the interests of our nation?” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The President asked about the mechanism used to distribute import customs duties among the budgets of the three countries. “Naturally the coefficients are incommensurable (Russia imports dozens of times more worth of commodities than we do and Kazakhstan does). Nevertheless, the policy should be shaped in a way so that we would not lose anything. What methods are used for the calculations? Have you come to terms?” asked Alexander Lukashenko.
Alexander Lukashenko underlined: “We are building the Customs Union. It should be understood that it is destined to fail if, as early as this stage, we start making corrections, introducing provisos, dreaming up some special model… If we are to create the Customs Union, we should be guided by its classical notion, classical principles that are generally acknowledged. It is the union we initially agreed to”. The President reminded that Belarus considers the Customs Union as a step towards the single economic space.
If provisos have to be made for oil, oil products, gas, sugar, milk, butter, meat, wheat and so on, then it is likely that neither Russia, nor Kazakhstan nor Belarus needs such a customs union, believes Alexander Lukashenko. “This is why it would be desirable to clearly see our interests and our positions,” he said. “I would like to warn you as the head of the Belarusian delegation in the Customs Union Commission: in no way should we deceive our partners or give up on our interests. We should determine the policy now because later it will be irreversible. It will be too late to fight for our own interests,” Alexander Lukashenko told Andrei Kobyakov.
The President added that everything should be done in an honest and decent manner. “We are not that rich to sacrifice our interests. We are not Kazakhstan and nor are we Russia. They have things they can sacrifice. They have rather sufficient reserves of hydrocarbon raw stock,” remarked the head of state.
Informing the head of state, Vice Premier Andrei Kobyakov reminded that the unified customs tariffs came into force on 1 January 2010. The process generally went well because Belarus’ tariffs had been quite unified with those of the partner states. Things are smooth and no major problems arise, remarked Andrei Kobyakov.
Earlier economic operators wondered how their investment projects will be implemented in view of customs preferences. Customs Union Commission resolution No 130 of 27 November 2009 enabled customs preferences as they are set by national laws for investment projects of vital importance for the three countries. The Customs Union Commission will keep a record of such projects. The duty-free import of commodities to make up the authorized funds of the companies, which are set up using foreign investments, has been stipulated.
The single customs territory should come into force on 1 July 2010. To make it happen, several agreements have to be prepared. The key one is the agreement on distributing import customs duties. According to the Vice Premier, experts of the Customs Union member-states had discussed it rather vigorously. The sides have agreed matters relating to the accumulation of customs duties, timely transfer of customs duties between the budgets of the member-states. Parameters of the distribution of customs duties between the budgets are almost ready.
At the working meeting the head of state paid close attention to the customs duties on cars imported by individuals. Andrei Kobyakov said that negotiations on the agreement meant to regulate the import of commodities by individuals into the Customs Union are supposed to start soon. The talks are expected to end by 1 July. If they are not over, national laws will be in effect and there will be no legal vacuum, said the Vice Premier.
The same is applicable to free economic zones. Belarus believes that no changes of business operation terms for investors in free economic zones will be made for at least seven years. These preferences are granted by the relevant Belarus President decree.
The Vice Premier also informed the President about the preparation of the Customs Union Code for ratification by the three parliaments. Working on the Code, parliamentarians, businessmen and interested citizens submitted around 150 proposals. Each of them has been scrutinized in detail. 24 out of the 25 proposals Belarus submitted have been taken into account.
Discussions about the final revision of the Customs Code’s article on the way of forming the single customs territory were hot. Belarus and Kazakhstan believe that the customs territory should be whole and should encompass the three countries. Russia, however, insisted that the single customs territory should be made up of three national customs territories. The final revision of the article will be the one Belarus spoke for. The Belarus government believes that matters relating to export customs duties should be regulated soon because using them in mutual trade in view of the chosen formation of the single customs territory is impossible. Matters relating to entering the WTO should be settled, too.
During the meeting other topics were considered as well, in particular, preparations for holding a session of the Union Council of Ministers in Brest on 16 March, problems in Belarus-Russia bilateral cooperation, and the development of Belarus’ export potential. The President gave specific instructions to the government on every matter.
Union State Government to discuss 20-point agenda in Brest
The participants of the session will review progress in the implementation of the joint action plan aimed to mitigate the consequences of the financial crisis, improve the balance of payment, and streamline business terms and trade regulations.
The Council of Ministers will analyze the results of the trade and economic cooperation in 2009. The bilateral trade made up $23.43 billion. In 2009, Belarus-Russia trade was less affected by the crisis than the trade with the CIS member states in general. The trade with Russia shrank by 31.2%, while the trade with the CIS member states reduced by 35.5%. In 2009, Belarus replaced Ukraine as Russia’s major trading partner in the CIS. Belarus is ranked fifth as Russia’s major trading partner (sixth in 2008). Our country accounts for 5% of Russia’s overall trade (4.6% in 2008).
The participants of the session will discuss the efforts of the Union State Customs Committee to create the customs infrastructure, develop shared information technologies, simplify the movement of goods and vehicles on the territory of the Union State.
The Union State Government will also discuss the harmonization of the Belarusian and Russian legislations, social and labor policy, formation and operation of the unified transportation system, creation of the single information area and a coordinated policy in technical regulation, standardization and metrology.
The participants of the session will also adopt a schedule of joint sessions of ministries and government bodies of Belarus and Russia in 2010 and the agenda of the sessions of the Union State Council of Ministers in 2010.
The Permanent Committee underlined that the forthcoming session in Brest will have a very packed agenda, the session is expected to set ambitious goals for the year 2010 and lay a foundation for adopting key decisions that might be included in the agenda of the regular session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.
Replacement of Belarus’ MPs with opposition members contradicts EURONEST format
“The EURONEST is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. It is committed to promoting cooperation among the MPs of the European Union member states and six partner states. The proposal to bar Belarusian MPs from taking part in the EURONEST undermines the essence of this organization,” Vadim Borovik said. The so called representatives of the civil society the European Parliament wants to invite to the EURONEST, are not authorized to make any decisions on behalf of our state. “What are they going to do in the interparliamentary association which will adopt supranational enactments, if they are not authorized to sign these documents,” the youth leader asked.
In his opinion, this kind of proposal is a demonstration of disrespect towards the Belarusian people and the parliamentarians of other Eastern European states. “At the recent parliamentary elections, today’s MPs were supported by the majority of voters; these MPs received several times more votes than opposition members. This is why discriminatory attitude to the MPs can be taken as disrespect to the choice of the Belarusian people,” Vadim Borovik underlined. He added that the participation of the National Assembly of Belarus in the EURONEST was unanimously supported by all the parliaments of the partner states. The attempt to ignore their opinion also demonstrates disrespect of the MEPs to other participants of the Eastern Partnership project.
Vadim Borovik is convinced that the situation with Belarus’ participation in the EURONEST reveals that double standards are again applied to Belarus. Opposition forces can be found in any country, both in Eastern and Western Europe. There is always someone who looses at the elections and is not happy about the outcome. However, Belarus turned out to be the only country whom the European Parliament offered curtailed and discriminatory participation formulas.
Apart from that, the MEPs have a strange understanding of what the civil society is, applying this definition to the narrow group of opposition-minded parties, while Belarus has thousands of NGOs that exemplify active citizenship and represent the interests of thousands of people. They are the basis of the civil society. “I would like the MEPs to adopt a more comprehensive and objective approach towards the situation in Belarus and treat us as equal participants of the European community,” Vadim Borovik said.
Belarus’ Foreign Ministry slams EP resolution on Belarus
“If the European Parliament wanted to make a constructive contribution to the settlement of issues between the neighbors, the means they chose are ineffective and ill-timed,” the press service stated.
The press service said, “First, the resolution has nothing to do with the real situation of ethnical minorities in Belarus. Belarusian citizens, including those of Polish origin, will prove that. It is clear to any unbiased foreign observer, too. Second, the resolution was adopted at the moment when Belarus and Poland resumed their dialogue in some sensitive areas. What is it: a disservice or an effort to frustrate the dialogue by those who are not interested in it?”
“Belarus also has a lot of concerns, including the ban to travel to Poland and the Schengen zone imposed on a number of Belarusian citizens of Polish origin and the introduction of the Polish Card, but we try to discus these issues directly with Poland, not involving international structures,” the press release said. Third, using such tools is like skating on the thin ice of interethnic relations; acting this way the European Parliament runs a risk to open Pandora's box with unpredictable consequences both inside and outside the European Union.
“We would appreciate if such a reputable organization as the European Parliament takes a more responsible stance, in particular when it comes to national minorities, and ignore the intrigues of some political mischief-makers,” the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.
Nuclear power to substitute 5m tonnes of imported fuel for Belarus
Nuclear power will reduce the prime cost of electricity generation in Belarus. In addition, the country’s greenhouse emissions will drop by 7-10 million tonnes, said the Deputy Energy Minister.
Mikhail Mikhadyuk remarked that Belarus had put a lot of efforts into choosing the nuclear power plant design project. “We have scrutinized the potential and possibilities of all the designs under consideration to finally choose a modern Russian design – AES-2006,” said the official. The AES-2006 design is one of the latest ones and boasts an optimal number of active and passive safeguards of the future nuclear power plant.
The Deputy Energy Minister reminded that the draft Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on building the nuclear power plant is ready. Belarus has completed all the necessary intrastate procedures while Russia continues doing it. “We expect the document to be signed soon,” said the official. Contract papers for building the nuclear station are also being prepared.
Mikhail Mikhadyuk added that thorough work had been done to choose the location of the new facility. Specialists have determined that the Ostrovets site fits the requirements best. The choice has been evaluated by IAEA experts, who praised the efforts Belarusian scientists and specialists had put into choosing the site as well as the final result of the work, said the Deputy Energy Minister.
Shares of three Belarusian companies up for auction
A Belarus President ordinance has been passed to alienate shares of three joint-stock companies via tender and auction, representatives of the State Property Committee told BelTA.
The shares of Prodmash (Minsk) will be sold via tender, shares of Zhlobin Quarry of Molding Materials (Zhlobin) and Printing House of the Belarusian State Agricultural Academy (Gorki) – via auction.
The tender will be announced this year after the market price of the shares has been determined, while auctions will be announced this year, too, after the initial price of the shares has been determined. The date of the tender and the auctions will be posted on the website of the State Property Committee and in mass media.
The Prodmash company specializes in millwork, construction metal structures, metal tanks and reservoirs, metalworking, production of agricultural machines, equipment for animal and poultry breeding. The company employs 71 people.
Printing House of the Belarusian State Agricultural Academy specializes in graphic arts production. The company employs seven people. The value of net assets was estimated at Br70 million as of 1 January 2009.
Zhlobin Quarry of Molding Materials is located in the Gomel Oblast. It specializes in excavating gravel and sand quarries, heating energy generation and delivery, water collection, treatment and distribution. The company employs 53 people. The value of net assets was estimated at Br3.2 billion as of 1 January 2009.
No EURONEST seats for Belarusian lawmakers, MEP says
He said that a decision to this effect had been made by MEPs representing the European Parliament in the EURONEST PA after studying the findings of the Parliament’s delegation that stayed in Belarus in late February.
After the Belarusian authorities rejected a composition formula whereby the country’s delegation to the EURONEST PA would include five members of the House of Representatives and five opposition politicians, the European Parliament decided that the delegation should not include Belarusian lawmakers altogether, according to Mr. Protasiewicz.
The delegation will have no right to vote at EURONEST sessions but will be able to make speeches, the MEP said.
Mr. Protasiewicz denied reports that a decision on the composition of Belarus’ delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly had been postponed by a month. He stressed that the European Parliament’s decision would not be changed but would be officially announced only in April as European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek plans to meet with the parliamentary speakers of all Eastern Partnership countries but Belarus on March 24 to explain the Parliament’s stance on Belarus and hold consultations on the further development of the EURONEST PA.
The composition of Belarus’ delegation has already been approved, according to Mr. Protasiewicz. It will include representatives of the United Civic Party, the “Spravedlivy Mir” (Just World) Belarusian Party of the Left, the Belarusian Social Democratic Hramada, the Belarusian Popular Front, the Movement for Freedom, the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian Intelligentsia, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, the Ekadom environmental group and the so-called “unofficial” Union of Poles in Belarus.
He stressed that the delegation would not include members of the House of Representatives.
It was earlier proposed that the EURONEST PA should consist of 60 members of the European Parliament and a 10-member delegation from each of the six post-Soviet states participating in the European Union’s Eastern Partnership program, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Many European politicians have suggested that opposition forces should necessarily be represented in the Belarusian delegation to the Assembly.
Minsk has insisted that the delegation should include only members of the National Assembly, which is not recognized as a legitimate parliament by the international community.
Belarus receives $200 mln loan from World Bank
The World Bank's strategy of cooperation with Belarus envisages an increase in financial aid to the ex-Soviet republic from $100 million to $250 million annually in 2010-2011.
The IMF allocated Belarus its first tranche of $800 million in January, the second tranche of $680 million to the ex-Soviet state was received in July. Minsk received $699.5 million in October.
Venezuela, Belarus create working groups to assess cooperation
From: El Universal
Venezuela's Vice-president Elías Jaua said that Belarus has made important achievements in areas it now shares with Venezuela, most notably housing, tractors, machinery, transport trucks, scientific development in livestock and seed production, urban gasification projects, among many others.
For his part, Ricardo Menéndez, the Minister of Science and Technology and Intermediate Industries, said that the two governments are not only seeking exchanges in the balance of payments, but they also intend to find mechanisms of integration and closer ties between the two economic models.
Will Belarus Build its Nuclear Plant?
From: Georgian Daily
However, there are increasing signs, not only that the station will be well behind the planned schedule of completion for the first two reactors (in 2016 and 2018 respectively), but also that it may not be built at all. The confusing reports stem from contradictory signals by the main partners, Belarus and Russia, and particularly from comments made by the Belarusian president.
Last May, Belarus and Russia signed a document on cooperation between the two countries on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. At this time, they agreed to work together to complete the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Belarusian Deputy Energy Minister, Mikalay Mikhalyuk, reported that an official agreement would be signed by the end of the first quarter of 2010 (Belarusian Telegraph Agency, February 9). Last December, a government commission resolved the question of location, stipulating that the plant would be built near the village of Mikhalishki, 12 miles from Astravets, and that when completed, the station would provide up to 30 percent of Belarus’ electricity output (Belapan, March 5).
In some respects, matters appear to be proceeding normally. For example, at a workshop for government officials held in Minsk on February 9, Director of the Department of Nuclear Energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Jong Kyun Park, declared that he and his colleagues were ready to assist the Belarusians to build a plant that would reach 2.4 megawatts in capacity (Belarusian Telegraph Agency, February 9). Belarus must now hold discussions about the environmental feasibility of the plant with neighboring countries and Austria, with key talks taking place with the governments of Lithuania and Ukraine, according to Belarusian First Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, Vital Kulik, in early March (Belapan, March 5).
However, in other respects, total confusion reigns. Noisy demonstrators interrupted talks on the potential environmental impact of the station in Vilnius (www.naviny.by, March 5). Critics note that the Neris River will provide the water supply for the station, which will likely lead to contamination of its waters, thereby threatening the extinction of the river’s salmon. They also highlighted that there is no immediate provision for a recycling plant for the reactors’ nuclear waste, meaning that the burial of radioactive products will take place very close to the Lithuanian border. Opponents of the plant’s construction in Belarus are thus placing their hopes on Lithuania to highlight these potential problems at future meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) (The Baltic Course, March 7).
However, it is the partnership with Russia that elicits the most intriguing questions. In late February, Russian government officials attended the ceremonial laying of the first public stone of the Baltic nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad. Moscow is to provide financing for 49 percent of this station, with the rest open to foreign capital. Germany has reportedly expressed interest in becoming an investor. The timetable for the completion of this structure is identical to that proposed for the Astravets station, (completion of the first reactor by 2016 and the second by 2018) (Bellona, March 1). The difference is that construction work is already under way in Kaliningrad, which raises the question as to whether Moscow would be prepared to invest in a second, foreign station, when a domestic one will be completed just as quickly.
On February 25, Mikhalyuk stated that preparatory work on Astravets would entail the expenditure of 350 billion Belarusian rubles ($119 million). The first houses for workers have been built and a road and railway are under construction. The Belarusians are dependent on support from Russia for this infrastructure, but nothing has been forthcoming from Moscow. No contract has been signed with Atomstroieksport, the anticipated Russian builder. Moreover, Aleksandr Surikov, the Russian Ambassador to Belarus, stated that his country was prepared to pay only for buildings at the plant site itself. Everything else must be covered by Minsk (Belarusy i Rynok, March 1).
His apparent reticence becomes more readily understandable if one recalls comments made by Lukashenka in late December 2009. The Belarusian president noted that construction of the Astravets plant was hardly in the financial interests of Europe and perhaps not for the Russians either. Instead, “[our] competitors are ready to pay us not to construct it and purchase their energy instead” (Belorusy i Rynok, March 1). Could the station then be simply a ruse to gain more loans from Russia, and possibly from Lithuania, which is another likely recipient of nuclear-generated electricity from Kaliningrad? Lukashenka has often demonstrated such wiles in the past, but given the time and expense already invested in Astravets, this would be a major ruse indeed.
Whatever his possible machinations, the fact is that the project is behind schedule, of secondary interest to the main partner, builder, and financier Russia, and raises significant questions and concerns in Lithuania, as well as among the anti-nuclear community in Belarus. Evidently, the community in Astravets would welcome the plethora of new jobs at the plant site, but, who is going to pay them? As yet there are no clear answers.
US Department of State harshly criticized last dictatorship of Europe
From: Charter '97
The human rights report on Belarus gives critical assessment of human rights situation in the country.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed when presenting the reports to journalists: “These reports are an essential tool – for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places.”
She also noted: “We find ourselves in a moment when an increasing number of governments are imposing new and crippling restrictions on the nongovernmental organizations working to protect rights and enhance accountability.”
Speaking about how the report may influence the US policy, Hillary Clinton said: “The reports released today are a record of where we are. They provide a fact base that will inform the United States’ diplomatic, economic and strategic policies toward other countries in the coming year. These reports are not intended to prescribe such policies, but they provide essential data points for everyone in the United States Government working on them. I view the these reports not as ends in themselves, but as an important tool in the development of practical and effective human rights strategies by the United States Government.”
The introduction to the 2009 Human Rights Report says regarding Belarus: “Following a few positive steps taken by authorities in 2008, the absence of reform during 2009 was disappointing.”
We offer extracts from 2009 Belarus Human Rights Report to your attention.
“Since his election in 1994 as president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his power over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, manipulated elections, and arbitrary decrees. Subsequent presidential elections have not been free or fair, and the September 2008 parliamentary election failed to meet international standards. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, their members continued to commit numerous human rights abuses.
The government's human rights record remained very poor as government authorities continued to commit frequent serious abuses. The right of citizens to change their government was severely restricted. The government failed to account for past politically motivated disappearances. Prison conditions remained extremely poor, and reports of abuse of prisoners and detainees continued.
Arbitrary arrests, detentions, and imprisonment of citizens for political reasons, criticizing officials, or for participating in demonstrations also continued. The judiciary lacked independence, trial outcomes usually were predetermined, and many trials were conducted behind closed doors.
The government further restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and religion and continued to enforce politically motivated military conscriptions of opposition youth leaders.
The government seized published materials from civil society activists and limited the distribution of a number of independent media outlets. State security services used unreasonable force to disperse peaceful protesters.
Corruption continued to be a problem. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and political parties were subjected to harassment, fines, and prosecution. Religious leaders were fined or deported for performing services, and churches continued to face persecution from authorities. Trafficking in persons remained a significant problem, although some progress was made to combat it. There was discrimination against Roma, ethnic, and sexual minorities, and against use of the Belarusian language.
Authorities harassed independent unions and dismissed their members, severely limiting the ability of the workers to form and join independent trade unions and to organize and bargain collectively.”
Uladzimir Tseliapun asks prosecutor to check the legality of formation of election commissions
He stated that on 9 March the sitting of the Mazyr district executive committee on formation of precinct commissions took place. The sitting was attended by nine persons. Before the beginning of the sitting Veranika Baikova, Chairperson of the personnel work banned taking photos and recording anything on Dictaphone. She also warned the present representatives of the Belarusian Popular Front Party and the United Civil Party that discussion and asking questions during the sittings weren’t provided by the Election Code.
After this Baikova quickly read the general information about the number of representatives of civil organizations, political parties and working collectives in the precinct commissions. There’s was no discussion about the representation of political parties and civil associations in the precinct commissions. Being asked how the proposals of UCP and BPF on inclusion of members to the precinct commissions were taken into account, Veranika Baikova called only the surnames of two UCP members. L.Chornaya, chief editor of the local newspaper, stated that the decision of the district executive committee concerning the formation of the precinct commissions would be published on Saturday. However, according to Article 34, part 5 of the Election Code, ‘the decision of the bodies that established a commission can be appealed within three-day term since its adoption, at a district or an oblast court respectively, by the subjects who nominated their representatives to the commission’. As far as the decision was taken on 9 March, its publication on 13 March will deprive anyone of the possibility to appeal against it.
In his complaint Mr. Tseliapun asks the prosecutor to:
- determine whether the prohibitions to use photo camera and Dictaphone during the sitting of the commission at had any legal grounds and tell whether they met the requirements of Article 13, part 1 of the Election Code;
- estimate the legality of the procedure according to which representatives of the political parties and civil associations were chosen for inclusion in the commissions;
- find why representatives of opposition parties (BPF and UCP) weren’t included in the precinct election commission by members of the executive committee.
Hrodna: BHC observer Sviatlana Rudkouskaya is threatened with fine again
The woman is Chairperson of building and loan association #8 for four years and hasn’t had any admonitions or even minor remarks concerning her work from the side of the Leninski district executive committee in Hrodna, but got in trouble after her nomination as an independent observer at the Praletarskaya constituency election commission #17.
Several days ago she received a telephone call from Aleh Bokii, an officer of he Leninski district executive committee. This time threatened to fine the woman 1.050 000 rubles (about $355) for the alleged refusal to repair the balcony of the building and loan association. Sviatlana Rudkouskaya states that she has the appropriate conclusion of the Hrodnazhylprayekt state body, dated August 2009, that the balcony needs no repairs. She has held three assemblies of members of the building and loan association on this issue. The officially invited officials of the Leninski district executive committee didn’t come to them. Members of the building and loan association supported Rudkouskaya and ruled to invite a representative of the Leninski DEC to their next assembly. Besides, they addressed the Leninski district prosecutor with a complaint about the groundless and unlawful actions of the officials.
Russian regional vote is mid-term test for Medvedev
Officials from the three largest opposition parties said they had seen little improvement from regional polls last year that they dubbed the dirtiest ever. They said they would reserve final judgment until after the vote count.
"The authorities are using their full bag of dirty tricks," said senior Communist lawmaker Sergei Obukhov.
Widespread violations could boost a series of anti-government protests on March 20, six days after the poll.
Around 32 million of Russia's 110 million registered voters are eligible to vote in polls, which include elections for eight regional parliaments. Opposition parties predicted a low turnout by voters disillusioned by a tightly controlled process.
"Nothing will change, it's almost like it was under the Communists," said driver Alexei Ivchenko, 46, in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fifth largest city. He voted for the left-leaning opposition Fair Russia as a protest against the authorities.
The elections come half way through Medvedev's four year term as he struggles to demonstrate progress on a pledge to loosen the tight control of the political system introduced during Vladimir Putin's eight years in the Kremlin.
Despite a series of relatively liberal speeches by Medvedev, analysts have struggled to point to any significant deviation from policies introduced by Putin, now prime minister and dominant partner in Russia's ruling "tandem."
Accusations of voting violations were so widespread in a Moscow city council vote last October -- overwhelmingly won by United Russia -- that three usually loyal opposition parties walked out of parliament in a rare protest. They were coaxed back by Medvedev's promise of a fairer vote this time.
Golos, Russia's largest independent election monitoring body, said it has seen no improvement on earlier polls.
"If anything United Russia is being more aggressive toward its opponents than before," Golos head Liliya Shibanova said after polls closed in the Far East region of Khabarovsk.
Campaigning was marred by the barring of candidates from the liberal Yabloko party from two regional polls after officials ruled that several thousand voter signatures required to get the party on the ballot were invalid.
In most regions United Russia will face three parties -- the Communists, Fair Russia and the nationalist Liberal Democrats, all relatively cautious in their opposition to the Kremlin.
Federal election officials have dismissed opposition complaints of bias and say Russian elections are more open than those in Western Europe. The Central Election Commission said it had received almost 50 percent fewer complaints than during the campaign compared to October.
Putin's United Russia is expected to dominate the elections, drawing on its immense resources, entrenched position and popular leader. Facing a fragmented opposition, it posted ratings of between 50 and 65 percent in February polls.
"We need stability and order in the country," said engineer Alexander Martyugin, 52, after voting for United Russia in the center of Yekaterinburg. "Who else is there to vote for?"
But Putin's party faces growing anger over rapid hikes in prices for communal services, which helped prompt 10,000 people to gather in the western region of Kaliningrad in January for one of the largest opposition protests in a decade.
Russian official calls for night-time alcohol ban
From: Washington Post
President Dmitry Medvedev last year ordered tough measures to curb alcohol abuse, saying he was shocked by official consumption data showing the average Russian drank 18 liters (38 pints) of pure alcohol each year.
Since then, Russia has tripled the excise duty on beer, introduced minimum prices for vodka and is considering drastic limits on where and when beer can be sold, such as banning sales at street side kiosks.
Gennady Onishchenko, the head of Russia's consumer protection watchdog and the country's top public health official, said a proposed ban on alcohol sales after 11 p.m. did not go far enough.
"Why start when people are already asleep... We must ban it from 9 p.m.," he was quoted as saying in an interview with RIA.
He also said he supported copying a system in Finland where alcohol is sold only in specially licensed stores. Alcoholic drinks of all kinds are currently available in Russia 24 hours a day.
The report did not say whether the proposed time limit on sales would also apply to bars and restaurants.
Multinational corporations such as Carlsberg, SABMiller, Anheuser-Busch InBev and others control more than 95 percent of domestic beer market, one of the world's largest.
On the minds of both parties, analysts said, was a nation not present at the signing. "China will be the ghost in the room," wrote analyst C. Raja Mohan in an opinion piece this week in the Indian Express.
Having a working aircraft carrier -- India's only carrier, the 50-year-old British-built Viraat, rarely leaves port -- should allow India to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean. India has watched China in recent years forge strategic port alliances with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar as part of Beijing's South Asian "string of pearls" strategy.
China doesn't have an aircraft carrier, although U.S. intelligence reports suggest it could within five years. Nor is it expected any time soon to base military craft in the Indian Ocean. But Beijing is heavily outspending India on defense and is keen to safeguard its seaborne oil trade with the Middle East, a lifeline for its hyper-charged economy.
"China is not now in the Indian Ocean, but we don't know what will happen in 15 years," said Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian brigadier general and head of Security-Risks.com, a military analysis firm. "They've already showed their capabilities in the Pacific, and we need to be ready."
Russia is also concerned about China's expansion. Although Moscow and Beijing recently settled several long-simmering border disputes, China's growing economic and political clout has Russia looking over its shoulder, particularly amid fears of encroachment in its sparsely populated Far East region.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who met with senior Indian officials, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, wants India-Russia trade to expand to $20 billion a year by 2015 from the current $8 billion.
Russia sees India as a strategic counterweight to China. Moscow and New Delhi also have a shared interest in tamping down regional violence, drug production and Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia.
As China and the rest of East Asia grow ever-thirstier for energy, the Indian Ocean has grown in strategic importance. About 60% of the world's oil moves past India's shores.
Polish Football clubs forced to cut lucrative ties to online gambling firms
From: Recent Poker
Reporting on the move, Betfair's initiative for free movement of goods and services in the EU, Right2Bet, says that Unibet, which was the official sponsor of the Polish second division, can no longer have its branding placed in stadiums and on TV. The partnership has therefore been suspended and the much needed money which was supposed to go to struggling Polish league clubs has been withdrawn.
Poles have banned all forms of gambling outside of the land-based casinos, and advertising of gambling companies has also been blocked.
"The development will come as a hammer blow to the league, its clubs and their supporters, who are now being robbed of the chance to earn the type of money needed if Polish football is to progress and regain a sure footing in the global game," the Right2Bet blog laments.
"Polish football, in terms of infrastructure and quality is in the pits, and the ridiculously restrictive legislation now in place is having a major impact on everyone connected with the sport.
"Amazingly, this new legislation only came about as a result of the government trying to pass the buck, after members of the Cabinet were charged with corruption. The disgraced politicians were found to be opposing higher taxes on gambling institutions based on their ties with them, and rather than blame the individuals responsible, the government looked to appease the public by blaming gambling itself, and the new bill was proposed and passed at breakneck speed."
The European Commission has already voiced its displeasure with certain aspects of the new bill and has asked Poland for an explanation.
Anti-Semitic slogans paint at concentration camp memorial monuments near Krakow
|Anti-Semitic slogans on a memorial monument at the former Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp.|
Words including "Jude Raus" — German for "Jew Out" — and "Hitler Good!" in English, were found in red paint on a large monument at the former camp. A smaller memorial plaque was also painted with a swastika and "Jude Raus."
It happened on the eve of a march commemorating the 67th anniversary of the liquidation of the Krakow's Jewish ghetto in World War II.
According to the Polish press agency PAP, the police have launched an investigation.
On March 13, 1945 a German SS operation targeted the Krakow’s Jewish quarter. About 8,000 people were transferred to the Krakow labour camp and some 2,000 killed on the streets or taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
The Plaszow camp featured in Steven Spielberg's 1993 Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List," which chronicled efforts by German industrialist Oskar Schindler to save Jews by having them work in his Krakow factory.
Suspected hit-and-run driver arrested in Poland after human nose found stuck to car
"Many traces, including human tissue, were found in the under carriage of the BMW," a police statement said.
A source close to the investigation told AFP a mechanic had found the nose of the victim jammed in the frame of the woman’s car.
Police said a 28-year-old man fell victim to a hit-and-run by the woman Monday night on a small road in the Warsaw area. The man died after she fled without offering him any assistance.
She told mechanics at the garage where she took her car for repairs that she had hit a deer.
The garage notified police when a mechanic making repairs on the car found the human body part jammed in its under carriage.
Belarus' Nadzeya Astapchuk sets a championship record
Ostapchuk found the energy to produce a sixth and final effort of 20.85 metres, seting a championship record and beating Vili's best of 20.49. The 29-year old struck silver behind New Zealand's Valerie Vili in Valencia two years ago but turned the tables on the Kiwi in the ASPIRE Dome.
Vili, the reigning Olympic and world outdoor champion, claimed silver with another Belarus putter, Natallia Mikhnevich, taking bronze with 20.42m.
Domracheva wins the women's World Cup ski pursuit
The Belarus, due to her sprint success, started first and maintained that position despite picking up one penalty and a strong challenge from Germany's Magdelena Neuner.
Domracheva, who won 15km bronze at the Vancouver Olympics, covered the 10km circuit in 31min 32.6sec, 12s clear of Neuner, who had three penalties, and 18s up on Simone Hauswald.
Neuner's performance earned her the biathlon pursuit title and consolidated the double Olympic champion's position at the top of the overall standings with five events remaining.
Belarus dance theaters to partake in Golden Mask Festival in Russia
The organizers of the contest base their decision on the opinion of the Golden Mask councils of experts and theater critics in choosing the participants of the Maska Plus programme. The Belarusian Theater of Contemporary Choreography D.O.Z.S.K.I. that is of particular interest among the organizers of the contest will present its compositions in Moscow. Among them are “Maturity”, “Stone, Scissors, Paper” and “Winter”. The Karakuli dance theater will present its play “Wedding”.
The Maska Plus contest will open in the Russian capital on 11 March.
According to CIS Interstate Humanitarian Cooperation Fund CEO Armen Smbatyan, the support of the theater talents is one of the most important areas of the activity of the fund. “Every day the CIS Theater has been gathering strength and popularity. The meeting of CIS theater companies in Moscow has been turning into a big theater event in the Russian capital,” he stressed.
Alexander Lukashenko unhappy about Belarusian ice hockey
The President promised that more sessions to discuss sports affairs will follow this one. The session held on 12 March is expected to table ice hockey and everything relating to winter sports. After that a serious discussion will be held as part of the general meeting of the National Olympic Committee, preparations for the oncoming London Summer Olympics will be talked over.
Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that ice hockey is the first thing on the agenda not because it is his favorite kind of sports but because there are several solid reasons to do it. Belarus’ performance at the Vancouver Olympics is the first one. “I am worried and dissatisfied due to the lack of a well-gauged strategy meant to develop ice hockey prior to the oncoming world championship in Minsk in 2014,” said the President.
The second reason, he continued, is that Olympics come and go but the Belarusian team has to participate in the oncoming world ice hockey championship in Germany. Alexander Lukashenko is confident that letting things slide is out of the question. “If we play like we did in Vancouver, we’d better stay home. In Salt Lake City we made it to the fourth position while in Vancouver we were either ninth or twentieth. The fact that we ended up no one knows where is the worst one,” he remarked.
According to the President, future operation of the Minsk-based ice hockey club Dinamo has to be revised. “If next year we play the way we did in KHL this year, we’d better spend the money on domestic ice hockey development instead of travels from Vladivostok to Brest across the ex-USSR,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The head of state remarked that the Dinamo team does can play as some games indicate, but its performance was so uneven that the lack of responsibility of the Ice Hockey Federation, the team and the players themselves is to blame.
Alexander Lukashenko strongly believes that in view of the global financial crisis the government cannot afford spending much on ice hockey to no purpose. From now on, he warned, no one should count on big money without serious performance. “They don’t play ice hockey today, they fight, especially during Olympics and world championships but you go there just to play anyway,” the President told participants of the session. Speaking about salaries of hockey players, Alexander Lukashenko said that many Belarusians would fall over themselves to get an average salary a Belarusian ice hockey player gets.
In response to proposals to send the Dinamo club to play for the KHL cup along with the Minsk-based club Junost and maybe yet another team, the head of state remarked that it can be done only after the first team wins bronze medals at least. Therefore, all the talks about sending another team have to stop. “If someone has money, please yourselves, pay and play,” said Alexander Lukashenko. The President stressed that the government will provide aid only when it sees good results.
The head of state also pointed out drawbacks relating to the development of ice hockey for children and youth. In particular, the performance of the Belarusian team of 18-year-old players is uneven, the team gets in and out of the top division. The situation the Belarusian team of 20-year-old players is in is similar. While in 2004-2007 it left the first division for the top one, over the last three years it sunk to the 13th position. The facts make the President think that so far the Ice Hockey Federation, the Sports and Tourism Ministry, oblast authorities and Minsk City Hall have failed to formulate a smooth system and to put proper efforts into advancing the Belarusian junior and children’s hockey up to international standards.
“The game these teams show is absolutely low. People have no will to fight, there is no modern hockey. Everyone saw the way Americans and Canadians played during the Olympics. They fought for every centimeter of the ice rink,” added Alexander Lukashenko.