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BELARUS


  

Key Economic Data 
 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
GDP
Millions of US $ 14,304 12,200 12,700 76
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,360 1,290 1,380 124
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Belarus

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,322,151

Principal ethnic groups
Belarusians 77.9%
Russians 13.2%
Poles 4%

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka

  

Update No: 284 - (27/08/04)

Spats with Moscow
Despite leaning heavily towards Russia, with whom it aspires to a union, the Belarus regime, cantankerous at best, is not above making its weight felt by its giant neighbour. In February gas supply from Russia was temporarily cut off due to non-payment. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka predictably called this an "act of terrorism" at the time. He has obviously been brooding on the matter and now in sunny August has his solution worked out.
Lukashenka said Belarus will strive to become less dependent on oil and gas purchased from other countries, that is Russia. Speaking to citizens in the Vitebsk region Lukashenka remarked: "Do you think gas prices will not change? Gas will be more expensive, which is why we need to switch to local fuel types," such as wood and peat. Lukashenka labelled the gas supply problems Belarus experienced last winter "little things. There will be a time when Russia will switch to world gas prices, and we will do it as well." Lukashenka reassured his audience that Belarus will continue to use natural gas, asserting,: "We will buy gas and will supply it to Belarusian consumers."
The most recent spat, however, concerns the closure of an errant Russian TV station, bold enough to cover an opposition rally. This comes ahead of parliamentary elections on October 17th.
Russia insists on the resumption of work at the office of the VGTRK (Russian state television) channel in Belarus, the Foreign Ministry declared on July 30th.
The ministry protested to Belarus' temporary plenipotentiary in Russia against the channel office closure. This decision by the Belarussian authorities "does not blend with the allied relationship between our countries and is directed to the infringement of freedom of speech," the ministry statement was quoted as saying.
On July 29th, the journalists of VGTRK in Belarus were deprived of accreditation. Their office had earlier been closed. The decision was made in connection with a VGTRK report on a protest rally against Belarussian president Lukashenka. Belarus' Interior Ministry said 193 people had attended, including 44 detained by police before the protest got under way. The Russian television report said several thousand demonstrators took part in the rally. Belarus called this report "improper."

Supreme Court closes opposition party
The opposition is constantly being harassed. Belarus's Supreme Court ruled on August 3rd that an opposition party must close down, prompting Lukashenka's critics to accuse him of mounting a crackdown on opponents before the elections. "The Supreme Court took the decision to satisfy the suit of the Justice Ministry (against the Labour Party) ... that the party's legal address did not correspond with the real location of its headquarters," said a court spokesman. 
Labour was a small member of a five-party coalition due to fight the parliamentary elections. "The closure of the Labour Party ... is another step to cleanse the political spectrum of opponents before the parliamentary elections," the Belarussian People's Front, a leading party in the coalition, said in a statement. "It raises the question whether it is possible to conduct democratic elections in this country." Opposition parties and the West have accused Lukashenka, a former collective farm boss who has been in power since 1994, of increasingly autocratic tendencies. 
Several opposition politicians have 'disappeared,' while others have been jailed. Lukashenka's 2001 re-election was criticised as fraudulent by the opposition and Western countries. 
Presidential elections are due in 2006. Lukashenka says that he might hold a referendum to enable him to stay in office beyond the two-term maximum set by the constitution. 

UK scientist, expert on Chernobyl, expelled
A UK citizen and professor at Kingston University, Alan Flowers, has been expelled from Belarus, without explanation. His research into the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, begun in 1992, could be the reason.
The academic was issued the order to leave the country on August 2nd by the passport and visa service of the Interior Ministry's directorate in one of Minsk's districts. He has also been banned from visiting Belarus for the next five years. The professor believes his expulsion may be linked to his close ties with some Belarusian NGOs.
For more than a decade, Alan Flowers has been involved in scientific and humanitarian exchanges with Belarusian academics. He has recently taken part in a youth summer camp of the European Youth Parliament in Belarus.
The Chernobyl power station, in Belarus' neighbouring former Soviet republic Ukraine, exploded on 26 April 1986. The blast, which killed at least 30 people and forced the evacuation of 135,000 more people because of the level of nuclear contamination in the area, was the world's worst nuclear disaster. 
Vladimir Kuzura, an official from the Belarusian Interior Ministry, refused to explain the reasons behind the withdrawal of Dr Flowers' visa and the deportation order. 
But Dr Flowers is said to have made a claim that, if proved right, would cause great embarrassment to former top Soviet officials. According to Vera Rich, who was the Soviet correspondent of the scientific journal, Nature, at the time of the tragedy, many believe the then Soviet Union seeded clouds to make them rain on Belarus. The move was aimed at preventing winds from blowing contaminated material towards Moscow, theorists say.
However, many scientists are highly dubious of claims for successful cloud-seeding. One of the problems is proving that any rain following experiments would not have fallen anyway. 
According to Ms Rich, who is currently a freelance writer for the Ukrainian Weekly, Dr Flowers said he had many colleagues in Belarus who believe in this theory but would never admit it in public for fear of retaliation. 
In her article, she quoted him as saying: "For a full understanding of the distribution and effects of the Chernobyl fallout, we need as much evidence as possible. What caused the rain is still an uncertainty in our knowledge about the intensity and nature of the contamination." 
The Chernobyl disaster led to a dramatic rise in the number of cases of thyroid cancer, leukaemia and birth defects, especially in Belarus. Up to seven million people are believed to have been affected. 

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CREDIT RATING

Credit rating for Belarus


The National Bank of Belarus called for the process of the republic receiving a country credit rating to be sped up as much as possible, Interfax News Agency reported recently. 
"The position of the National Bank is to complete work on receiving a country credit rating as soon as possible," bank CEO, Pyotr Prokopovich, said. "As a member of the presidium of the Council of Ministers, I always criticise my colleagues in the government because we are carrying out this work very slowly," he said. "At the moment there is every chance of finishing this work by the end of this year."

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FOOD & DRINK

Brewery sale attracts IFC loan

The first privatisation of a brewery in Belarus has attracted investment fro m the World Bank's International Finance Corp (IFC), just-drinks said recently, New Europe reported. The IFC is sinking US$3m in equity funding into the country's Detroit Belarus Brewing Co and lending US$7m to the CJSC Belarus Brewing Co; both companies are participating in the privatisation of OJSC Dednovo Brewery, in Belarus' Mohilev region. The IFC will join other western investors in supporting a US$31.3m investment programme to expand, modernise and refurbish the Dednovo plant, improving quality and consistency, and developing a range of brands of its beer.

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Belarusian, Syrian parliaments sign cooperation accord

A cooperation agreement was signed between the National Assembly [parliament] of the Republic of Belarus and the People's Assembly of the Syrian Arab Republic. [The speaker of the Syrian parliament, Mahmud al-Abrash, was on a visit to Belarus], Belarusian television reported.
The speaker of the Belarusian parliament's upper house, Henadz Navitski, said that Belarus regards Syria as one of its major partners in the Middle East. Interests of Belarus and Syria are multifaceted and lie in many areas, including economic cooperation and scientific and cultural exchanges. The two speakers also noted the need to step up work on establishing a joint venture to assemble [Belarusian] tractors in Syria.

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