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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: 296 - (26/08/05)

Lukashenka the pariah
The US and its European allies see the presidential election in Belarus in 2006 as an opportunity to unseat President Lukashenka; "the last dictator left in Europe," as US Secretary of State Condi Rice calls him - true enough if one is prepared to overlook President Robert Kocharian of Armenia. Charity for Kocharian is extended for special reasons. He is not running a Soviet-style regime and has hostile neighbours making repression mandatory for now.
The pressure on Lukashenka, the man who has systematically crushed all political opposition since his election in 1994 is growing inexorably. A series of European leaders used the summit of the Council of Europe in Warsaw in July to call for change in Belarus. 
Lukashenka is used to criticism from the US and EU. What makes the new attacks different is that many of them now come from Central Europe and former republics of the Soviet Union. On 17th May, Slovakia added its voice to the swelling chorus of condemnation. The detention of yet another prominent opposition leader in July was, it said, further evidence of political motivated pressure on the opposition and media in Belarus. (see also LITHUANIA and the GUAM group).

The Polish thorn in the flesh 
Closer to home, Poland, which borders Belarus, has become one of Lukashenka's most outspoken critics. It expelled a Belarusian diplomat on May27th in retaliation for the expulsion of Marek Butko, the first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Minsk one day before. "He will not return until the situation in Belarus is resolved," said Polish foreign Minister, Daniel Adam Rotfeld. "Polish-Belarus relations are in very serious crisis," he added.
Butko had acted as an important link between Western governments and Belarus' often-repressed opposition. He also had maintained contact with ethnic Polish groups living in Belarus. Lukashenka has accused Poland and other NATO-member governments of funding Belarussian opposition groups in an attempt to unseat him. Again, this is not paranoia. It is quite likely to be true. The regime is trapped in a vicious circle of alienation from all and sundry, whether abroad or at home.
Earlier, at the summit of the Council of Europe, Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski said that "widespread violations of elementary principles of democracy and human rights in Belarus" were not acceptable. Foreign Minister Rotfeld made much the same point. "In Belarus, the internal system has to change," Rotfeld said. "It is the last example of the sort of museum piece that the Council of Europe does not accept."

Poland-Belarus ties in crisis over civil rights abuses
The diplomatic moves come after a recent clampdown by Belarus' authoritarian regime on leaders of the country's ethnic Polish minority working in the independent Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB).
Rotfeld accused president Alexander Lukashenka's government of "intimidating" and harassing the UPB leadership and Polish diplomats in Belarus, New Europe reported. "The actions of Belarus authorities show they are not interested in respecting minority rights," he said, stressing Poland would not stand by in silence and tolerate the gross violation of fundamental human and civil rights in Belarus.
The foreign ministry also called on the European Commission to take decisive action to support Poland in its efforts to protect minority rights in Belarus. The European Union condemned the repression of ethnic Poles in Belarus. Poland will request the EU's British presidency to address the matter.
The Polish foreign ministry also wants funding to be made available for an independent radio station that would transmit from Poland into Belarus in an effort to loosen Lukashenka's tight-fisted grip on the country's media. His regime launched an assault recently against the leadership of the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB), the largest organisation in Belarus to remain independent of state control.
Recently, three leading members were sentenced to 10-15 days in prison for organising so-called "illegal meetings," while the UPB President Andzelika Borys was stripped of her title and detained by Belarussian prosecutors for questioning. A reporter from Poland's state TVP covering the story was also detained. Lukashenka lashed out against the United States and the European Union, accusing them of carrying out both overt and clandestine campaigns to oust him from power. He particularly accused Polish diplomats and the UPB of conspiring.
Senior East European statesmen have indeed used strong language to condemn Lukashenka's regime, with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga mincing no works to plainly call him "Europe's last dictator." Warsaw and Minsk have also been locked in a diplomatic war since April 2004. The most recent salvo came when Belarus announced the expulsion of a fourth Polish official. Poland has also expelled four Belarussians and has blamed Lukashenka for using the Polish minority as a scapegoat to divert public attention from his country's many problems.

Lukashenka can take the heat
Lukashenka might be feeling the heat, but isolation is a condition to which he has grown accustomed. He makes no secret of his contempt for international as well as domestic opinion. His opponents, both at home and abroad, will be encouraged by the collapse of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the elections in Ukraine in late 2004. But Lukashenka is a tougher proposition altogether. He enjoys a solid nucleus of support in Belarus and he has repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to use force when threatened.

EU and US fuel Belarus' anger 
Diplomatically, he is taking the struggle to the West itself. Belarus on August 10th accused the European Union and the United States of interfering in its internal affairs by encouraging an association of ethnic Poles to act against the Belarussian government. The Belarussian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Minsk did not violate its obligations within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. 
The statement rejected as "groundless fabrication" EU and US accusations that the Belarussian government oppresses non-governmental organisations, describing the charges as yet another reflection of the double standards practiced by the EU and US.

Putin for Russia-Belarus union 
Belarus is making it even more attractive to Moscow. President Vladimir Putin spoke in favour of the unification of Russia and Belarus at his meeting with the Nashi (Ours) political youth movement at the Zavidovo state residence, Ria Novosti reported recently.
"Russia needs the union. We need it in a geopolitical sense and most important of all, we are a single nation on the whole," Putin said. "We do not want to offend those who value Belarussian culture, language and history, which we are proud of as well. However, in a broad sense, we are a single nation and we will only benefit if we unite, having gained advantages in relations with other countries," he said.
This surrender of sovereignty and therefore his own powerbase was the point at which Lukashenka pulled back from his own often touted concept of union with Russia. Putin earlier had said that Belarus would be welcome to join the Russian Federation (along with 89 other republics, territories, etc). Lukashenka was outraged, insisting that Belarus (that has never been independent before), must be accorded the national dignity due to its statehood and be treated as an equal partner in any union. It is believed that he fancies his own chances on the Russian political stage if opportunity via the 'right kind' of union, allows. However Russia political leaders are who the Kremlin says they are, and Lukashenka would be altogether too much of a wild card for them to be likely to 'release' onto the Russian stage.

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AGRICULTURE

Belarus predicts harvest of 7m tonne of grain for 2005 


Until August 1st, Belarus has reaped grains and pulses from 348,800 hectares, which is 16 per cent of the overall harvest area, according to data released by the ministry of agricultural products, New Europe reported.
Grain crop amounted to 1.1m tonnes at an average yield of 3.22 tonnes per hectare. Malting barley was collected from 11,700 hectares, which is 12.8 per cent of the forecasted area. The data also showed that rapeseed was reaped from 85,000 hectares, which is 62 per cent of the forecasted area. Belarus is predicting a harvest of more than seven million tonnes of grain for this year.

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ENERGY

Gas transit via Belarus up 23.6% 

The transit of natural gas through trunk pipelines in Belarus totalled 21.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) in the first half of 2005, up 23.6 per cent from the same period last year, Interfax News Agency reported, citing a source at the statistics ministry. 
Overall, 31.7 bcm of gas was pumped through Belarus in January-June 2005, up 15.1 per cent year-on-year, including 10.2 bcm for domestic consumers, up 1 per cent. Beltransgaz handles all gas transit in Belarus. It operates 7,000 kilometres of gas pipelines, including 575 kilometres of the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

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FOREIGN COOPERATION

Lukashenka on ties with Lithuania 

Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, told Petras Vaitekjunas, the new Lithuanian ambassador at Minsk, that Belarus is prepared to normalise relations with Lithuania, RIA Novosti reported.
"If the Lithuanian leadership wants normal relations in the political and diplomatic spheres, we are ready for this anytime," Lukashenka was quoted as saying, adding that Belarus did not impose its friendship or partnership on Lithuania and other neighbours, such as Poland, Ukraine, etc.

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Velcom, Ericsson win Belarus deal 

Velcom and Ericsson signed an agreement on Velcom GSM network extension in Belarus, New Europe reported.
Under the contract, Ericsson will supply equipment and services for Velcom network extension for US$33m by end-2005. That will enable Velcom to mount 300 new base stations and 200 Mini Link radio-relay hops and to provide services for some two million subscribers. Ericsson is to put into operation an intelligent platform (total capacity - 1 million customers).

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