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BELARUS


  

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 17,493 14,304 12,200 76
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,590 1,360 1,290 122
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Belarus

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,310,520

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

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka


Update No: 293 - (27/05/05)

It looks as if the US is closing in on Belarus
Events in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and now Uzbekistan have changed everything. The Bush Administration wants to see the end of the ghastly dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenka there.

Rice calls for free and fair elections in Belarus
US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, recently called for free and fair elections in Belarus, rebuffing Russian demands for an end to external interference in the country. Asked if she would support pro-democracy street protests in Belarus, Rice said the United States did not want to "tell people how to fulfil their aspirations for freedom."
People on the ground "know best the methods necessary to make changes in Belarus," she underlined, adding: "The key here is that people ought to be able to protest, to speak their minds. There ought to be free media."
Rice, attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Vilnius in April ahead of the May celebration in Moscow of Victory Day in 1945, said that she was not interfering in the internal affairs of Belarus which she earlier described as the "last true dictatorship in the centre of Europe."
But after talks with Belarus opposition groups in Vilnius - a meeting also attended by European Union foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana - Rice said it was vital to keep a close watch on the situation in the country. "Elections have been an important catalyst in any number of countries around the world if the international community makes very clear that they need to be free and fair and is prepared to judge whether they are free and fair," she said.
The polls should not be a "sham," Rice insisted, adding that the US and the EU were determined to "shine a spotlight on places where people are still denied freedom. We can insist on certain standards of behaviour, including standards of elections," she said, adding that Washington would support "independent voices in this struggle."
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, rejected US calls for political change in Belarus, saying reform must be generated within the country. But how does that happen in a glacial dictatorship? Where is the Belarus Gorbachev?

The Minsk monstrosity
The regime in Belarus is in all but name communist, much more so than the government in Moldova, which is communist in name, but not in fact.
Although Alexander Lukashenka was first elected president in 1994 with a populist mandate to fight corruption and restore stability, the country has become one of the most repressive of the former Soviet republics. Lukashenka's control extends far beyond politics. In 10 years in power, he has increased his sway over business, the news media, civic organisations and schools - in short, over anyone or anything that might challenge him.
Journalists have been charged with criticising the president, a crime punishable by fines, internal exile and as much as four years in prison. What few private businesses exist - nearly 80 per cent of the economy remains in state hands - have faced prosecution based on what critics call the slimmest pretences.
The authorities have closed or harassed private organisations, especially if they have received financial support from Europe or the United States, which Lukashenka regularly denounces in language reminiscent of the Cold War.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the local chapter of the international human rights organisation, has since August 2003 faced a prosecutorial assault for, among other things, failing to use quotation marks around its name on official stationery.
"We think it cannot be worse," Tatsiyana Pratsko, the committee's president, said in an interview in her small office. "And it becomes worse."

After Kiev, Minsk?
The Americans in their post-war policies were always worried that there would be a domino effect if they allowed a communist revolution to take place. Its neighbours would follow suit.
Actually, the real domino effect occurred in 1989, when one after another the central Europeans had revolution after revolution to escape communism, followed by another one two years later in the USSR.
A democratic 'domino effect' is perfectly possible and President Lukashenka can see it coming. After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus ended up in the hands of the tyrant of Minsk who preserved everything from the old system, including the most authoritarian of customs. However, from the moment when Yushchenko's democratic opposition began to make headway in Ukraine, Lukashenka has been quaking in his boots. He fears the next elections in his own country might get rid of his regime and consign him to the same fate as Ukraine's president Kuchma, who was effectively imprisoned in his own palace for days by thousands of protesters.

The radicals of Minsk
As a result, the situation in Ukraine is being scrutinised minute by minute from the presidential palace in Minsk: Lukashenka knows that the destiny of Belarus is often linked closely to the destiny of the Ukraine, and would rather not pay the price. The 'number one enemies' of the regime are no longer the opposition parties but non-violent democratic movements, such as those that have filled Independence Square in Kiev and forced the Putin-Yanukovich train to be stopped in its tracks. The Belarusian presidential administration - that exerts an almost total control over the country and its economy - understands all too well that the young members of the Belarussian Zubr organisation are serious about what they do, following the ways and teachings of the non-violent Serb movement Otpor ('resistance' in Serb).

Secret weapons: pamphlets in your jacket and clicks galore
The 'secret weapons' of Zubr are the ones which have already been used effectively against Milosevic's Serbia, Shevarnadze's Georgia and Kuchma's Ukraine by the enfants terribles of organisations such as Otpor, Kmara and PORA. The first of these weapons is called Vybar ('Choice'). This newspaper-pamphlet is carefully designed so as to be hidden between the folds of one's jacket even at several dozen degrees below freezing. The second is called Internet. By way of a few clicks, the web allows the mobilisation of 'dormant' activists from the deepest Belarusian countryside to the Western capitals. From this follows an avalanche of demonstrations halfway between student pranks and serious disobedience. On December 6th in Nemiga Street in central Minsk, a Zubr militant (later arrested) enjoyed 8 metres of freedom for a few minutes as he hung a banner proclaiming: "today Ukraine, tomorrow Belarus!"

The tyrant of Minsk talks back: repression, repression!
Meanwhile, today in Belarus the government has decided to go for the hard-line approach. Just a few hours after the announcement of the results in Kiev, Lukashenka named his new leader of the presidential administration: Viktar Shejman (who has been implicated in a series of political assassinations). The top priority: seek out and break down attempts by the West to put the regime in crisis with 'populist tactics'. Indeed, on their return from a meeting with "revolutionary" colleagues of the regime in Kiev, three dissidents were sent to prison.
And yet in Minsk, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, one of the leaders of Zubr, is encouraged by the firm position shown by the European Union on the situation in the Ukraine. However, he hopes that when it is the turn of Belarus, Javier Solana (the EU foreign policy representative) does not just show up when all is done and dusted. Lukashenka has personally declared that he excludes for Belarus a "Ukraine scenario", since "wise people know how to interpret the errors of others". Let us hope the European Union and its governments are wiser than Lukashenka and do not just enter on stage at the very last possible moment (as they did in the Ukraine) - for the sake of making the icy ground of Belarus fertile for democracy, and knocking down the last domino on the borders of the Europe of 25.

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FINANCIAL NEWS

Belarus boosts gold reserves


Belarussian gold and currency reserves amounted to US$1.258bn on April 1st 2005, up 20.2% from the start of the year, the National Bank of Belarus said, Interfax News Agency reported.
In March the reserves increased 5.4%, after an increase of 20.1% in February. According to the National Bank, forex reserves increased 27.7% to US$958.7m in January-March, while gold assets increased 28.2% to the equivalent of US$126.5m. Belarussian gold and forex reserves calculated using the International Monetary Fund method, increased 26.5% in January-March to amount to US$974.6m on April 1st 2005. In March reserves increased 2.7%, after an increase of 37% in February.

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS

Viet Nam welcomes Belarus as traditional friend

Viet Nam welcomes Belarus as a close friend with whom it has maintained fine political and diplomatic ties for over 50 years, vnanet.com reported.
State President Tran Duc Luong, while receiving Chairman of the Belarussian National Assembly Council of the Republic Gennady Novitsky in Ha Noi on May 17, also noted with satisfaction the friendly and bilateral cooperative relations between the two countries' leaders.
Viet Nam and Belarus should continue strengthening their cooperation in economics, trade, investment and technological application in conformity with each country's potential, Luong said.
To boost bilateral trade exchanges, Luong said, the two countries' governments should consider supportive measures on taxes, administrative procedures, transportation and methods of payment.
Also on this occasion, President Tran Duc Luong conveyed his best regards to the Belarussian President and invited him to visit Viet Nam this year.
Gennady Novitsky expressed his pleasure at visiting Viet Nam, especially as Viet Nam is preparing to mark the 115th birthday of President Ho Chi Minh. He agreed with President Tran Duc Luong's assessment on the potential to expand and develop cooperation between Belarus and Viet Nam, especially in economics and trade.

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TRADE SURPLUS

Belarussian trade surplus grows

Belarus saw its foreign trade surplus soar 180% year-on-year in January-February 2005 to US$449m, the statistics and analysis ministry said, Interfax News Agency reported.
The ministry said visible and invisible trade grew 18.6% to US$4.424bn, including growth of 25.3% to US$2.437bn for exports and 11.4% to US$1.988bn for imports. Belarus closed 2004 with a trade deficit of US$1.8499bn, up 77.3% from 2004.

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