Lukašenka praises new criminal code
The new Belarusian criminal code, aptly called "Code of Criminal Procedure and Correctional Administration Code," is "up-to-date" and "the best the world can offer," according to President Aliaksandar Lukašenka. The new code, which took effect on 1 January 2001, will require a "cardinal reform" of the judicial system as well as considerable expense, the President said.
"We decided to reform those areas because the old codes were obsolete, too rigid and hence undemocratic," Lukašenka explained. According to him, the new criminal code reduces punishment for many offenses, but increases it for "especially brutal crimes." The enactment of the code was delayed to prepare "the system and the people," Lukašenka said.
Private TV off the air
Channel 8, Miensk's only private TV channel, was pulled off the air just after midnight on 1 January 2001. The Ministry of Communications has thus fulfilled its threat to cease renting a state-owned transmitter to Channel 8. "It seems the authorities sought to hurt both the channel and its viewers, who were looking forward to our New Year's show," a spokesman for Channel 8 said. He added that Channel 8 was not going to give up its struggle for survival.
Meanwhile, the Channel 8 frequency has been taken over by STV, a city government-run company that has long battled with Channel 8 over the transmitter. STV's first broadcasts included a welcoming address by Miensk Mayor Mixal Pawlaw, who thanked Belarus's head of state for support. Unlike Channel 8, STV crews have gained immediate access to events involving the President.
Lukašenka blames the West for policy of "double standards"
Belarus strongly opposes the policy of "double standards" pursued by certain Western forces, Lukašenka told Ambassador of Italy Giovanni Ceruti as he departed from Miensk. Lukašenka stressed that "the more Belarus is subjected to pressure, the harder resistance will be."
"It is especially related with the coming presidential elections due this year," he added. He noted that Belarusian authority would act "democratically." "We'll hold elections no worse than in other states, including the CIS, where you have acknowledged them to be legitimate," Lukašenka said.
At the same time, the Belarusian leader emphasized that Belarus "is and always was a sovereign state." He underlined that his country was ready to cooperate with the West as actively as with the East. The President said, "[the] process of cooperation with Belarus has been launched in parliaments of Western countries." In particular, he referred to the establishment of standing commissions on cooperation with Belarus in parliaments of many states. "More than 50 parliamentarians make up such a commission in the parliament of Italy," Lukašenka said.
He also gave a high appraisal of the position of the Italian government and parliament with respect to parliamentary elections that took place in Belarus in 2000. Lukašenka noted that Belarus's relations with Western countries "took various forms" the previous year and said that the "Italian government did its best to preserve normal development of contacts between the two states."
Belarus expects illegal immigrants to increase in 2001
A substantial increase in the number of illegal migrants trying to cross Belarus's border into Europe is expected, Mikalaj Koxan, Deputy Chairman of the State Border Troops Committee, told BelaPAN. Koxan linked the predicted increase to the fact that in 2001, Poland plans to introduce a visa requirement with respect to Asian countries and CIS member states, including Belarus.
It should be noted that the requirement will first apply to Mongolia and some CIS countries on 1 January, while it will extend to Belarus sometime during the middle of the year, Koxan said.
"This creates certain problems for us because, for instance, the flow of Mongolians via Belarus, who formerly entered Poland without visas, is considerable," he notes. According to data released by Belarus's law-enforcement agencies, there are up to 150,000 illegal migrants in Belarus at present. In addition, in the Russian and Ukrainian areas adjacent to Belarus, there are 1.5 million and 600,000 illegal migrants, respectively.
20 Belarusians die in New Year fire
20 people died in a fire during the New Year festivities from 31 December to 2 January, according to the Belarusian Ministry of Emergencies. A ministry representative said 107 fires were registered and nine buildings were destroyed by fire.
The body of a man in a Santa Claus costume was found on 1 January in a village in the Smarhon' district of the Harodnia region. The victim received a lethal knife wound to the heart. Five people were reported as injured by petards and taken to the emergency rescue hospital in Harodnia on New Year's Eve.
Small-scale businessmen on strike
A national strike of private entrepreneurs selling their wares at street markets took place in Belarus. They protested against the authorities' policies regarding small businesses. The protest action began on 1 January and was to last until 5 January. In some districts, the strike may continue until 15 January.
The organizers of the strike said that most of the private traders did not open their kiosks in Miensk, Barysaw, Slucak, Salihorsk, Harodnia, Homiel, Mazyr, Rahačow and Viciebsk. They said that at least half of the registered traders had taken part in the strike. The strikers oppose the introduction of a single income tax and new customs laws. They have threatened not to pay taxes until 15 January. On this day, they intend to hold a rally and decide whether or not to continue the strike.
Old money out, new inflation in
December 31 was the last day of circulation for Belarusian rubles issued prior to the 1999 money reform, which have three more zeros than the new ones. Holders of old notes can still exchange them without restriction at any bank throughout 2001.
Those who fail to do so will be allowed to exchange their old money at the National Bank of Belarus until 31 December 2003. The Belarusian ruble plunged against the US dollar and other currencies in all segments of Belarus's exchange market last year, but its fall was not as sharp as in 1999. The sharpest monthly fall of 21.1 percent occurred in May 2000. On the black market, the ruble lost 51.8 percent (212 percent in 1999) of its value against the dollar last year.
And in other news...
- Maryja Šaraja, a resident of the village of Nižnija Žary in the Brahin district of Homiel region, turned 123 on 2 January. The woman has outlived her close relatives and there is nobody to care for her. The local authorities provide assistance, which has been intensified since Aliaksandar Lukašenka started sending birthday cards to the old woman.
- Viačaslaw Xaranieka, a 39-year-old lecturer at the police academy in Miensk, has a good chance of being entered into the Guinness Book of World Records. While performing in a cafe in Miensk, Xaranieka lifted a 40-kilogram beer keg 4221 times from noon on December 30 until midnight on 1 January. The weight that he lifted totaled about 170 tons. Xaranieka, who is 178 centimeters tall and weighs 84 kilograms, set three national records, having lifted the keg 1100 times in six hours, 2000 times in 12 hours and 3200 times in 24 hours. The athlete drank 20 liters of mineral water and about a liter of a chicken broth, ate 420 grams of chicken meat, ten chocolate bars and 20 bananas, oranges and lemons in the 24-hour period. Despite his great consumption, he still lost about eight kilograms.
Yuri Svirko, 4 January 2001
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