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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)

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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: 297 - (29/09/05)

Regime stays firm
President Alexander Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994 and who recently changed the constitution so that he can run for election a third time early next year, has done everything possible to squash any independent expressions of opposition.
One method favoured by the regime is administrative. All organizations are required to have a fixed legal address in order to be recognized by the authorities. Increasingly, the authorities refuse to register the addresses.
In September, for example, the Reformed Evangelical Church, which has been in Belarus for more than 400 years, was banned. Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga, an analyst at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, said the church "was outlawed because the community had no legal address, nor could it have registered one, because the authorities had previously evicted it from all of its prayer houses." It now celebrates services in homes.
Web sites of independent political parties have been blocked and the opposition is under even more pressure.
Mikola Statkevich, the veteran leader of the Social Democratic Party, who is serving a three-year prison term for organizing a demonstration, was recently accused of organizing from behind bars an illegal gathering after a dozen people gathered in front of the prison to express support for him.

MP calls on EU to stand firm on Belarus 
The Belarus regime is coming under strong pressure from its neighbours and the West to change its ways. But it is proving obdurate.
Rasa Jukneviciene, an MP from the Homeland Union (Conservatives) in Lithuania, has called on EU leaders to make up its mind on Belarus, arguing that any and all delays in supporting the country's faltering democratic institutions may have a negative long-term effect. "The most important question is whether the European Union needs an independent and democratic Belarus," Jukneviciene told the Baltic News Service during an international seminar on Belarus. "Elections in Afghanistan are currently freer than in Belarus," she added. Recently Jukneviciene returned from Afghanistan. 
She said the EU should lend much after more support for than just 138,000 euros for Belarus' democratization.

Poland piles on the pressure too
The Polish government has been applying pressure by diplomatic means on Minsk, which has responded by expelling several Polish diplomats for mixing with the Belarus opposition. The opposition in Belarus has immense support from Poland, one of the biggest of the eight former Soviet bloc nations that joined the European Union in May 2004. Poland's entry to the EU was the end of its long road started 25 years ago by Solidarity. Energized by the chance for the first time to influence EU foreign policy, Poland has taken every opportunity to shake Brussels into looking at its new eastern borders with Belarus and Ukraine and its longer border with Russia in a new light.
This was evident in December during Ukraine's Orange Revolution when the presidents of Poland and Lithuania went to Kiev to help mediate. Of course, neither Russia nor Belarus likes what Poland is doing. Relations between Poland and Russia and Poland and Belarus have deteriorated. 
Fearing the contagion of Polish democracy into Belarus, Lukashenka has begun repressing the Polish ethnic minority that makes up 4 percent of the country's 10 million people. In March, the Union of Poles in Belarus elected a new leadership independent of the regime, and the authorities recently cracked down on the movement, arresting several of its leaders.
Janusz Onyszkiewicz, Poland's former defence minister and vice president of the European Parliament, said, "We want to Europeanise our foreign policy." 
"This was the case with Ukraine," he added. "We really hope it will be the same with Belarus. The aim is to bring an end to this anomaly, the dictatorship in Belarus. The EU cannot have a country like Belarus on its doorstep."
EU diplomats in Brussels are still uncomfortable when they hear this kind of talk. But the Poles are not prepared to remain quiet. They intend to muster international support for monitoring next year's elections in Belarus and for helping the opposition. 

Young musicians lead the way 
But it is not just via officials that people are making their views known. The young in Belarus are taking inspiration from recent events in Poland and Ukraine. Youth music can lead the way, some claim.
On a warm, balmy night in Warsaw recently, the Polish Radio Orchestra gave an outdoor concert to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Solidarity trade union movement. Under clear skies, the orchestra played works by Polish composers and actors read verses by two of Poland's greatest 20th-century poets, Zbigniew Herbert and Czeslaw Milosz.
Behind the orchestra was a big screen that showed video clips of the many tumultuous episodes of Poland's uprisings against Soviet domination. And of course, there was a long video showing the life of the late Polish-born pope, John Paul II.
In an effort to make the concert inclusive of all generations and cultural tastes, the organizers had invited Polish punk and rock bands. The audience, packed with dignitaries and presidential candidates, gave the bands polite applause.
But then something happened to change its response. N.R.M., a band from neighbouring Belarus, took the stage. As the band went through its songs about freedom and people's power, the audience's attention turned to the back of the crowd. A young Belarussian had started to unravel the red and white flag of his country and was waving it high in the air. When N.R.M. had finished, the audience roared, some calling for freedom for Belarus.
The sense of this solidarity with Poland's eastern neighbours continued when Greenjolly, a Ukrainian band whose songs rallied support for President Viktor Yushchenko's election campaign in December, came on stage. The audience immediately stood up, starting to clap and join in the singing. Many knew the words.
Nine months after Ukraine's Orange Revolution and a quarter of a century after Solidarity helped change the map of Europe, Belarussians said their time for freedom would soon come. "Outsiders cannot force change, nor do we want them to do so," Pavlov Pete, a member of N.R.M., said after the concert. "We need their support. But we have to do it ourselves."
Pete, 38, and the other band members said it was impossible to underestimate Solidarity. For them, the movement remains a powerful symbol for opposition movements and independent civil organizations in Belarus. "The Poles did it themselves," Pete said. "We can too."
But using music to rock Belarus toward change is an awesome challenge. Lawon Wolski, a poet and musician who is one of N.R.M.'s founding members, said the band was prevented from playing on state-controlled radio and television and from performing publicly. (Private stations are few and censored). Sometimes the band changes its name so as to be heard on the state channels. Otherwise, it plays in private homes.
Curiously, the authorities in Belarus have not prevented N.R.M. and other bands from travelling to Lithuania or Poland, where independent groups can freely meet. "For the authorities back home, we are safer playing outside than inside the country," Pete said. "They don't seem to care what we sing outside Belarus as long as our music is not heard inside the country."
In the former Czechoslovakia, the Communist Party had long tried to suppress the Plastic People of the Universe, a group of musicians who defied the ban by playing in woods, fields and barns. But the more the group's members were arrested on trumped-up charges, the more support they won from a younger generation desperate to break the party's monopoly over cultural life.
But rocking for change in Belarus is a much more different venture than what the Plastic People of the Universe were trying to do. "It's a matter of time before Belarus changes," Pete said. "Maybe one day the state radio will play our songs." 

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AVIATION

Minsk to purchase new combat aircraft after 2010


Belarus will start purchasing new combat aircraft after 2010, a senior Air force officer said recently, New Europe reported.
Major-General, Mikhail Levitsky, the deputy commander of the Air Force and Air Defence, told journalists: "Modern aircraft have a service life of 25-30 years. After 2010, we shall start purchasing new warplanes. We are currently thinking about purchasing Russian-made aircraft and helicopters that can be modernised." Levitsky said it would be practical for Belarus to flu multi-functional Su-30 (Flanker) fighters.
"This is a reliable plane capable of providing air support and delivering strikes against various targets and troops and transport facilities deep in the enemy's defences," the general said. "It is two to three times more efficient in terms of combat power and combat use compared with Su-24M (NATO reporting name Fencer-D) and Su-25 (Frogfoot) planes." The Belarussian Air Force will operate Russian-made I1-76 (Candid) medium-range military transport aircraft until 2015," Levitsky added.
"After that, Belarus will purchase new modified transport planes in line with its state rearmament programme." Belarus intends to purchase I1-76MF planes instead of I1-76MD military transport aircraft. The I1-76MF has an extended cargo hold and increased fuel efficiency.
The aircraft is outfitted with a navigation system, which meets the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Levitsky said. Belarus also intends to purchase An-74 (Coaler) military transport planes to replace An-26 (Curl) aircraft.
The An-74 can carry five times more than the An-26. The Belarussian Air Force and Air Defence are also considering buying Russian-made Mi-28N multi-purpose attack plane.

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ENERGY

WSR to buy Nenetsko-Belarussky 

Sweden's West Siberian Resources (WSR) signed an agreement to acquire 100 per cent of OOO Nenetsko-Belarussky Oil Company, which owns exploration licences for sections close to the Srene-Kharyaga field, with potential reserves estimated at 116 million barrels, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to a WSR report, the deal cost US$5.2m, including existing debt of US$4.59m. Earlier the company agreed to acquire 100 per cent of OOO Nikoil, which owns 99.729 per cent of OAO Pechoraneft. This company owns a licence to explore and produce at the Srene-Kharyaga field in Timan-Pechora oil province. According to the report, WSR has already paid US$5m as an advance. 

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Siemens lands Belarus telco deal

Germany's Siemens is to supply high-speed GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) equipment for the large Belarussian operator SOOO Mobile TeleSystems, Interfax News Agency reported recently. 
As a result of the project, MTS subscribers in Belarus will receive full high-speed access to the internet, remote access to corporate networks, and the possibility of using mobile phones to transmit large volumes of information - video and musical recordings in real time. Belarussian-Russian joint limited company (SOOO) Mobile TeleSystems has provided GSM-900/1800 standard services in Belarus since June 27th, 2002. The company was founded by Beltelecom 51% and OAO Mobile TeleSystems - 49%. It currently has 1,700 active subscribers.

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