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Lukashenka is selling political prisoners to the West  ? 131

16:54, — Politics

Lukashenka is selling political prisoners to the West

Lukashenka promises an amnesty for Ales Bialatski and demands Mikalaj Statkievich to write a plea for pardon.

The ruler tasked the first deputy head of his administration Aliaksandr Radzkou to check the information voiced by the director of the BelaPAN information company Ales Lipaj, who said that representatives of civil society long compensated for the damage that, according to the court, a human rights activist Ales Bialatski caused the state.

He claimed that on 21 January at a meeting with the heads of Belarusian media at the Independence Palace.

This is a serious argument. It is not about politics and not about the position of Bialatski himself. I swear, I did not know him and I do not, - Lukashenka said, having pointed out that taxes are sacred.

According to him, if the information on the compensation of the damage proves correct, the issue of amnesty for the human rights activist should be considered.

It is worth pointing out that a year ago Lukashenka already made similar claims as to the liberation of Ales Bialatski.

Lukashenka also claimed that he would pardon political prisoner Mikalaj Statkievich if he wrote a plea even without admitting the guilt.

Will political prisoners fall under the 2014 amnesty? Ales Lipaj asked. For what I understand, a plea for pardon from them is not required for that. In particular, Mikalaj Statkievich a candidate for president in 2010. He was punished with the most severe verdict out of all the people, convicted for organizing mass disturbances six years in prison, and has already served half the term. Even the people, who stormed the House of Government and crushed the windows, have already been released, while Statkievich not only did not participate in such activities, but did not call for any pogrom. He is, apparently, from those people, who would not ask for pardon even under pressure. It would be in line with best traditions of Christianity and Belarusian people to forgive that he spoke strongly against the authorities and participated in the organization of a peaceful protest action, which turned into crushing windows and beating people not of his own will. Release them, this will help establish a dialogue with the European Union the dialogue, which is beyond doubt in the interest of Belarusian people, which means it should also be in the interest of the head of the state.

In response Aliaksandr Lukashenka reminded that he repeatedly spoke of the countrys practice of pardoning: the convict must write a plea for pardon, which will be considered. You may not write that you are guilty, - he added.

To Ales Lipajs additional question whether that meant that if Mikalaj Statkievich wrote a plea for pardon without admitting guilt, he would be released, Aliaksandr Lukashenka answered: We may do that, but the procedure should be followed.

Statkievich is not a rival to me in political sense, - Lukashenka emphasized. Statkievich is politically dead for Belarusians. In the latest elections he took the policy favoring the president. He was not a rival to me, neither a politician and he will not be. Statkievich is not worth being a stumbling block in our relations with the European Union.

Obviously, Lukashenka is ready to release political prisoners before the Ice Hockey World Championship and in exchange for IMF loans.

About dialogue with the West

Belarus and the West have engaged in a dialogue, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

We have not made it public recently. Those are not just symptoms. We conducted a number of events, though these events were not public. Many Europeans who come here often ask us to keep things private. I speak with them frankly if they want to meet with me. I never refuse to receive them; I speak with everyone from US congressmen to ordinary politicians and even former politicians from Europe. Of course, they have influence in their countries. We have held many meetings like that; we have established a kind of dialogue. Although we do not sit at the common table and discuss problems (we will do it eventually, though), there is some dialogue and it is good, he said.

According to Aliaksandr Lukashenka, these intermediaries communicate Belarus position to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other politicians.

At the same time Aliaksandr Lukashenka emphasized that Belarus independence should not be conditioned upon alienation from Russia. We want to live on our land and be sovereign. I do not want anyone to put the squeeze on my people anymore. My priority task as the first President is not to let it happen, he said.

Our independence is sacred. However, it should be understandable for our neighbors. It should not be aggressive. We are not this kind of country and we do not have the power to be aggressive towards the West or the East, Alexander Lukashenko said. The head of state emphasized that he will never use friendship with the West against Russia. The same way Belarus-Russia cooperation should not be detrimental to Belarus relations with western countries.

For some time recently we have not been criticizing or pressurizing each other. We have started to talk. Lithuania has realized that a third of their budget is generated by Belarus. The same thing with Latvia, he added.

Belarus loses $1.5-1.7bn in 2013 over potash conflict

Belarus lost $1.5-1.7 billion in 2013 over the potash conflict, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

Speaking about Belarus economic recession in 2013, Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated that it was due to the global crisis which affected the Russian and European markets, Belarus main trading partners, and a drop in production due to smaller amounts of Russian oil provided for the Belarusian oil refineries and the situation in the potash industry. Russia limited oil supplies to our plants. We received some two to three millions of tonnes of oil less, he said. As for potash fertilizers, the country lost $1.5-1.7 billion. This is the sum we lost and which created some sort of devaluation fears in the society, he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka reminded the participants of the meeting that the economic growth in Belarus was 9.8-11% in previous years, the same as in the Peoples Republic of China. We were as good as China. It was our biggest growth ever. I was even slightly afraid of an economic overheat, but the growth was good. We ramped up our production, upgraded a number of big companies. We did a lot then. We built a lot and at reasonable prices. The wage was above $500. It was a dramatic growth of our economy. Today we have outpaced the Soviet period more than two times. It is natural that bonanza growth periods are followed by recessions. It is true about any country. We needed to switch to the quality growth of our economy then. It is a great pity that this period coincided with the second wave of the crisis of our main partners, he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka believes that even if there were no global crisis, the Belarusian economy would face recession anyway. We reached a so-called ceiling in the development of our productive power and output. We will continue growing, perhaps up to 5%. It is unlikely we will add more than that since our industry is mainly processing. If we grow big, we will have to increase imports. I do not believe it is worth doing. We have finally found some sort of a balance, the President said. At the same time the Belarusian leader admitted that wrong planning did have place last year.

About new loan offers

Belarus receives attractive loan offers, Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

Lukashenka noted that there is a lot of criticism over Belarus debts. According to the head of state, everything is relative. Our entire gross debt makes up about 50% of GDP. For example, in the US the figure stands at 101% or $17 trillion, in Russia it makes up about $800 billion. Italy, Greece, Ireland, Portugal owe more than they produce in a year, or over 100% of GDP. As for our public debt, it is merely 18-19% of GDP, or $12 billion, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

Of course, it is better to have no debt at all, especially, for an economy like ours. We do not have much oil, abundant natural resources, gas, the prices for which are still high. We need to buy this all, therefore, there is no escaping it, he said.

Lukashenka emphasized that Belarus fulfills its debt obligations and will meet them this year. We will pay whatever we are due, the he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka thanked the Russian government for providing support to Belarus in the hard times. They were not the only one to support us in this moment. We received support from the People's Republic of China and international organizations, including the Eurasian bank. We have received very attractive offers regarding financial resources for our economy. We are considering the proposals where the interest rate is under 5%. There are proposals where it makes 3%, like those from China, he said.

It has long been my dream

Establishing a passenger car production in Belarus was the presidential dream of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

The head of state made the statement to this effect at a meeting with the heads of the leading Belarusian media outlets.

"It has long been my presidential dream. We produce buses, heavy-duty trucks. But there were no car manufacturers in the country, he said.

The head of state went on to explain how the idea to set up such a facility emerged, how the negotiations with the Chinese partners proceeded. As a result of these efforts, a joint car production facility was established in Borisov District. Within several years the production will be ramped up to 120,000 cars per year.

According to Aliaksandr Lukashenka, these cars have a good price/quality ratio. All the more so that all the major global companies came to China with their technologies. I endorsed this project. Today we are engaged in very difficult negotiations with Russia and others to get access to those markets. Nobody wants to open up their markets. It is difficult to penetrate this saturated market. We will gradually work towards our target of 120,000 cars. But for me it is important that we produce a new car in our country. A prudent person who knows how to save money will buy this car, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

In addition, the development of the car manufacture in Belarus will give an impetus to other industries. "This project will engage a dozen highly-efficient enterprises which will produce component parts," he added.

Belarus may grant amnesty to 2,000 prisoners soon

Belarus may soon grant amnesty to 2,000 prisoners, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

He said that he welcomes amnesties in general and usually personally initiates them. Aliaksandr Lukashenka believes that Belarus may approve amnesty in the near future similar to those that were held earlier. The new amnesty will cover about 2,000 people.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka believes that amnesties do not do harm. Practice has shown that they do not affect the crime rate. Currently Belarus prison population is about 30,000 while in the 1990s it was about 70,000. The crime rate declines by about 6-10% every year. "An amnesty does not lead to an increase in the crime rate. We can do it," he said.

The Belarusian language is not meant for revolutions

The issue of the Belarusian language is politicized, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

The President noted that there are multiple opportunities for those who want to study the Belarusian language. Commenting on a statement by some private mass media outlets about inadequate measures to promote the Belarusian language, Aliaksandr Lukashenka suggested opening Belarusian language courses at state-run universities.

I have nothing against the Belarusian language. I would like our people to speak Belarusian fluently. I want it more than you. The only thing that is unacceptable for me is pressure. As soon as you start imposing something upon someone you get the counter-reaction, he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka believes that the opposition made a mistake when it started pushing for learning the Belarusian language. The Belarusian language should not be used for political ends. The matter should be approached delicately. It is a sensitive issue, the head of state said.

This issue is politicized. If you want to learn Belarusian, open a book and read, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

The Belarusian language is not meant for revolutions, he added.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka believes that the country once made a very smart decision to keep the Russian language.

Commenting on the remark that few Belarusian-language books are published in Belarus, he reminded that he had earlier asked Belarusian authors to write at least one decent book, however, it has never happened. I told them: give me at least one book as great as War and Peace and I will guarantee huge support for it. However, there are no books like that! he said.

Everyone has been predicting the devaluation

Aliaksandr Lukashenka has assured that the national currency will not be devalued. If needed, the necessary resources will be allocated from the gold and currency reserves to maintain the exchange rate of the national currency, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said during a meeting with the heads of the largest Belarusian mass media outlets.

We have enough reserves. Soon we will get around $1.5 billion in loans from the Russian Federation to beef up our gold and foreign currency reserves. In case of urgency, we will support the economy provided we have excess reserves. There should be no fears. People will get their salaries, he said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka noted that "everyone has been predicting the devaluation of the national currency, except for the President. Both people and enterprises have been predicting it. I said that we will not do the artificial devaluation of the national currency to give a breath of air (though it could be a good thing) to BelAZ, MAZ, and other major companies. The devaluation of the national currency always results in price growth. We have been there. Therefore, we will not do it: 25%, 30%, or 15% devaluation will not happen. If we have an opportunity, we will maintain the stability of the national currency, but not excessively. Nobody will reproach us for this. All countries do this, he said.

If there is a frenzied demand for U.S. dollars and people queue in exchange offices, we will not maintain the exchange rate of the national currency at any costs. We need to set the exchange rate floating, said the head of state. According to him, that was what was done in Belarus. "Last year the national currency devalued by more than 10% against the U.S. dollars, and by over 9% against the basket of currencies U.S. dollar, euro and Russian ruble. With the economy we had last year, with the foreign trade deficit, we chose not to maintain the exchange rate of the national currency at any cost. We let it devalue but devalue gradually, he said.

With the parliamentary and presidential elections in sight (you know the reason) those who wanted to speculate on it were backed up by major financiers to start a campaign in the so-called opposition media. They encouraged people's interest in the topic. I said the devaluation would not happen! I wanted to show that these are useless financiers and economists who pushed this devaluation topic, the President noted. The President said he had addressed independent specialists with a request to calculate the consequences of a one-time devaluation of the national currency. They were unanimous in the futility of the step. It fortified my understanding of the situation. I have done everything possible to avoid devaluation, he stressed.

Yes, I sought and asked for loans. I borrowed this money, named the lenders. I do not think I did anything wrong. I did not violate any objective economic laws. As the head of state I did everything to maintain the stability of the national currency, at least at this stage. I will act like this in the future, keeping the exchange rate issue on my radar. I showed that all the arguments provided by our financial experts who sit idle are good for nothing, he said.

No prerequisites for denomination yet in Belarus

Denomination in Belarus will be announced six months before it is carried out, though there are no prerequisites for it yet, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

We will think about it together with experts when the time is ripe. We need to be very careful here. We are ready to carry out the denomination at any moment. However, there should be certain conditions for this measure, which is clearly technical in nature. The interest rate should be lower, the market should be calm. The economy should be free from the symptoms of crisis, he said.

This is why we will choose the appropriate time and announce the denomination not later than six months before it is carried out. The old and new banknotes will be in circulation simultaneously in the course of at least one year, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka noted that Belarus has already done denomination once. So there is no reason to be afraid of it. Nevertheless, we are still not ready for it. I do not mean the agencies which will carry out this denomination. I mean the people and the economy. I think that we will overcome this difficult recession stage. And even if the economy recovers this year already we will tell the people about this denomination six months before it is carried out, Aliaksandr Lukashenka said.

He noted that new banknotes have already been approved. It is also possible that coins will be introduced. The head of state thinks that the new banknotes look similar to those in the Eurozone.

We do not hide that we have long been ready for this process. However, the denomination should be well-timed. We do not want people to reproach us for carrying out denomination and some making a fortune of it. I have one strict requirement: if we have to round prices off, they should be rounded down. People should not lose anything on this, he underscored.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka reiterated that the denomination will be announced in advance.

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