Mapping Belarus, Demise of Potash Cartel, and Lukashenka's Big Catch - Western Press Digest

Belaruskali Production Facility (source: www.kali.by)

The Western Press has been making light of the recent split between potash producers Belaruskali and Russian Uralkali, signalling a turn for the worst in Belarusian-Russian economic relations. In a unique project, Belarusian volunteers have set out to digitally map the country with the help of Nokia.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus has called for the immediate release of opposition activist and political prisoner Ales Byalyatski, while Belarusian ruler Aleksandr Lukashenka fishing tales have captured the interest of the west. All this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.   

Belarus – No Longer a Blank Spot on Europe’s Map.  The New York Times covered a story discussing the how over 600 volunteers, including geography students and professors have recently undertaken a project sponsored by Nokia to create a reliable and detailed user-friendly map of Belarus. The initiative is the result of map enthusiasts collectively approaching Nokia to start such a project in Belarus, which has not seriously participated in any digital mapping projects before. Belarus remains largely unmapped due to the long and difficult process of getting a license to carry out any mapping within its borders. 

Belarusians Fined and Detained for Insulting Police on Internet and a Video – According to web-based project Index on Censorship, in two separate instances Belarusian courts prosecuted two citizens, one for insulting police officers and the other for the content of their video. In the first instance, a young playwright made a comment on a popular Belarusian website (www.tut.by) in which he criticised the police for being unhelpful after he called them after becoming the alleged victim of assault. Officials accused the convicted of insulting the police officers. In the second instance, a former employee of MAZ, one of the largest automobile plants in Belarus, posted videos online that depicted the day-to-day lives of those who work in and around the factory. The court sentenced former MAZ employee to seven days of administrative arrest for using obscene words in the videos.

Troubled Belarus-Russian Joint Potash Corporation Could Lead to Economic Woes – The Financial Times has reported on potash sales, one of the major sources of revenue for the Belarusian state, and stated that it may see a significant downturn after a rift between the Russian and Belarusian sides has emerged. Uralkali, the major producer of potash in Russia, has withdrawn itself from the joint corporation after it accused its Belarusian partner of working outside of the terms of their agreement through unauthorised potash sales abroad. The demise of the cartel of the two major producers of potash, a crucial agricultural fertiliser, has driven down prices and will likely have dire effects on the Belarusian economy as it has very limited exporting capacity to reach world markets in contrast to its Russian counterpart.

Belarusian President A Better Angler than Russia’s Putin – After receiving a large amount of attention in the Belarusian press, a statement by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka has gotten the attention of the western press. The Wall Street Journal reports that Lukashenka made a comment that he himself had caught three fish, weighing in at 57, 24 and 7 kg respectively, out fishing his Russian counterpart who managed to only capture a 21 kg fish in a recent trip to Siberia. Whereas the publicity stunt of was captured in pictures, the absence of any evidence in Lukashenka’s fishing tale was duly noted.

Belarus Should Release Political Prisoner Ales Byalyatski – In a statement issued by Miklos Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights in Belarus, the expert called for the immediate release of opposition activist Ales Byalyatski. Byalyatski has languished in Belarusian prisoner for nearly two years of a four and a half year sentence  as a result of his conviction for tax-evasion. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Haraszti stressed that the allegations against Bylatyatski are the result of the untenable conditions in which he had to operate in Belarus, since he is not allowed to legally register his organisation due to the authorities refusals. Authorities recently detained two activities of the NGO Viasnya, which Byalyatski founded, for distributing cards with his picture on it.

Belarusian Citizen Held Captive in Syria – A recent video has emerged of two women, one claiming to be from Belarus, who are being held by Syrian rebels. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty states that in the video, the women claim to be agents of the pro-Assad Palestinian political organisation Hezbollah, who were collecting intelligence and using journalist credentials as cover. In the video, the women identify themselves and one reads a statement that declares their alleged intentions.   

Opposition figure disappears for 15 minutes, violates parole - According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a Belarusian opposition activist is going back to jail for three months after his parole officers were unable to locate him for 15 minutes.  Uladzimer Yaromenak was pardoned by Lukashenka after being sentenced to a six year jail term for taking part in the December 2010 protests. The article news service that this is not the first time that Yaromenak has violated the terms of his parole and he intends to appeal the decision.

Lithuania concerned about Belarus' nuclear power plant construction - Bloomberg Businessweek is reporting on a statement issued by the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Belarus' neighbour has been pressing it to respond to its queries about the power plant's construction. The UN cited Belarus for violating the terms of the Espoo Convention and not taking the necessary steps to ensure its compliance with international standards. In response, official Minsk has stated that it replied to the same query a year ago, but its Lithuanian partners have yet to open a dialogue. It also notes that Poland, Latvia and Ukraine have not lodged a similar complaint, though they are also signatories to the Espoo Convention.

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