Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freedom for Belarus

There is one communist left-over in Europe.

A message from the International Democrat Union:

As people in the rest of Europe and many other parts of the world enjoy some relaxing days between the Christmas holidays and the new Year festivities, the circumstances for the representatives of the opposition in Belarus is quite a different one.

Until election day in Belarus on December 19 there seemed to be some grounds for cautious optimism. Although the state controlled media made sure that coverage was heavily tilted towards the incumbent president, more freedom of expression had been allowed than any time since president Lukashenko grabbed power in 1994. Independent opinion polls before the presidential election also showed that the incumbent for the first time would have to face one of the opposition candidates in a run-off election with, since there was no way Lukashenko could score above 50% in the first round.

The December 19 election had been preceded by a thaw in the relations between the Belarusian regime and EU - not least helped by Lukashenko's increasingly strained relations with Moscow. The developments in Belarus seemed gradually to be going in the right direction.

On election day it became apparent to all that Europe’s last dictator hadn’t suddenly become a democrat. Lukashenko seems to have realized he could not win in the first round without cheating. Whereas the voting process itself seemed calm and orderly, the counting certainly was not. Reports by independent observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the counting process as “bad” or “very bad” in nearly half the polling stations they could observe. It became clear that many election precincts never really counted, but followed orders from above to deliver a predetermined result.

From then on things went from ugly to worse. As the democratic opposition gathered in the centre of Minsk to protest against another stolen election, the regime struck with brutal force. Peaceful protesters were jailed and opposition leaders thrown in KGB cells, some also attacked, brutalized and arrested even before they could join the manifestation for democracy.

To quote the Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany (article in the International Herald Tribune, released on 23 December):

“Europe has not seen anything like this in years. The combination of vote-rigging and outright repression makes what Milosevic tried to do in Serbia in 2000 pale in comparison. What we have seen brings back memories of the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981.”

For the full article, see this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/24/opinion/24iht-edbildt24.html?_r=4&scp=2&sq=carl+bildt&st=Search

Presidential candidate Uladzimir Niakliayeu was attacked viciously by regime-controlled thugs on election day, even before the democracy rally, and had to be rushed to a hospital for medical treatment. Later in the evening he was abducted from his hospital bed by the KGB and held in complete isolation for a week, unlawfully kept from contact even with his lawyer. Also his close co-worker Andrei Dzmitryeu, international secretary of the United Civil Party (an IDU associate member, along with the Belarusan Popular Front), was detained and kept in isolation for a week, and denied access to legal representation. Both remain detained, along with scores of other representatives of the democratic opposition.

Here is a list of current political detainees or under house arrest in Belarus. If determined “guilty” by the regime they are now facing absurd sentences of between 5 – 15 years of prison based on drummed up charges:

1. Uladzimir Niakliayeu - presidential candidate
2. Andrei Sannikau - presidential candidate
3. Vital Rymasheuski - presidential candidate
4. Ryhor Kastusiou - presidential candidate (house arrest)
5. Mikalai Statkevich - presidential candidate
6. Ales Mikhalevich - presidential candidate
7. Pavel Seviarynets - head of Vital Rymasheuski's election HQ
8. Aliaksandr Atroshchankau - Press-Secretary of Sannikau's election HQ
9. Dzmitry Bandarenka - coordinator of the "European Belarus" campaign
10. Iryna Khalip - journalist, Andrei Sannikau's wife
11. Natallia Radzina - journalist, editor of the charter97.org web-site
12. Anatol Liabedzka - United Citizen’s Party Chair
13. Anastasia Palazhanka - "Young Front" Vice-Chair
14. Andrei Dzmitryeu - head of Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu's election HQ
15. Aliaksandr Fiaduta - political analyst, one of the coordinators of Uladzimir Niakliayeu's election HQ
16. Aliaksandr Klaskouski - former police officer
17. Uladzimir Kobets - head of Anderj Sannikau's election HQ (detained, not arrested yet)
18. Dmitry Us, presidential candidate (house arrest)
19. Siarhei Vazniak, Uladzimir Niakliayeu's election agent
20. Aliaksandr Arastovich, Mikalai Statkevich's election agent
21. Anatol Paulau, Yaraslau Ramanchuk's election agent
22. Aleh Korban, United Citizen's party.

Three more democracy activist from "Young Front", Zmitser Dashkevich, Eduard Lobau, Dzianis Lazar, were detained ahead of the election day rally, and are facing criminal charges for "disorderly conduct". If found guilty, they may be sentenced to 3 – 10 years in prison.

The IDU calls upon member parties to support the democratic forces in Belarus, and act to the best of their abilities against the oppressive and brutal dictatorship of President Lukashenko. The support may be given in many forms; by government actions where applicable, by raising the issue in your parliament or making urgent statements on the situation in Belarus, demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners and democracy.

Further actions should be demanded by parliaments and governments immediately after the Christmas and New Year recess.

Lukashenko’s attack on basic freedoms in the heart of Europe must not pass unanswered.

Eirik Moen
Secretary General
International Democrat Union

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas

Raise a glass to a happy Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Computer Says 'No'

As reported in the CEN...

"Dozens of trains between Cambridge and King’s Cross were announced as cancelled on the website of operator First Capital Connect this morning – but in fact many were running. The confusion was caused by an inaccurate computer feed to The FCC website from Network Rail, the company that oversees the rail track infrastructure."

ID Cards to Go

A message I missed earlier...

Cambridge NO2ID


DATE: 21st December 2010

EMBARGO: Immediate


Campaigners have welcomed a new law, passed today, that formally ends plans
to issue ID cards to everyone in Britain. However, they warn that some
worrying aspects of the discredited scheme remain in place.

The Identity Documents Bill is due to receive the royal assent on Tuesday
afternoon, formally abolishing the National Identity Scheme first proposed
in 2002. The new law reverses legislation passed in 2006 that would have
forced everyone applying for a passport to give over 50 pieces of personal
information for the ID cards database, and left them open to repeated fines
of up to £1000 if officials thought the supplied details were inaccurate or

In its final years the Labour government spent almost £250,000 per day on
developing ID cards, and their abolition will avoid further planned
expenditure of over £800m. In common with many councils across the country,
both Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City council decided not
to cooperate with ID card plans.

"The law passed today has finally terminated the unloved ID Cards scheme",
said Andrew Watson, East Anglian regional coordinator of the NO2ID
campaign. "I'm delighted that the cards themselves are now history, and
even more pleased that the central database of personal details is being
securely destroyed. The database, not the cards, has always been the most
dangerous part of the scheme."

"However, I remain worried that powers to share personal data created by
the original Identity Cards Act have been retained, even after the database
itself has been destroyed. If used, these powers would allow government to
share your personal data without your knowledge or permission."

"I am also concerned that visitors from Australia, the USA and other
countries outside Europe are still being fingerprinted for an ID Card, even
if officials call it a 'Residence Permit'. Not only is this a major
obstacle to valued overseas students coming to universities in our region,
but it also leaves in place a small ID cards scheme that could easily be
extended by a future government to cover the whole population."

"NO2ID will continue campaigning against encroaching official powers for
mass surveillance and trafficking in personal information without the
individual's consent."

- ENDS - (361 words, excluding title)

For more information, please contact Andrew Watson
(andrew.watson@no2id.net, 07710 469624).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Bit Busy

The real world has intervened so blogging has been light. The curse of the 2010 traveller is on the house of Normington as we have been affected by Icelandic volcanoes, air traffic controllers and now Jack Frost.

Bring on the summer...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giving sweeties to children

Dear Sir,

Julian Huppert wrote to you last week about tuition fees and has since voted - against the considered views of senior members of his party - against raising tuition fees for university students.

I wrote to the CEN in October saying that the cost of university education should be borne by those that benefit, that universities need to be free from Government interference, and that increased fees should persuade many universities to offer shorter and cheaper courses.

Mr. Huppert did not reply.

When will he learn that politics is a more serious game than giving sweeties to children?

Yours sincerely,

James Strachan

That's What I Call Cash for Questions!

Lib Dems paid £9,000 to find audiences for Clegg’s ‘town hall’ talks
The Times, Friday, p.33

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Facts on Fees

As the latest round of tuition fee protests get under way, here's a good website.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Climate in the Balance

The Cambridge News article on a debate at Shire Hall on carbon emissions is worth a welcome in itself as coverage of local meetings, like Parliament itself, has been in decline.

However… the choice of quotes is questionable.

The final score card reads:

Opposition Groups - 6
Lib Dem – Four
Green – One
UKIP – One
Labour – Nil

Ruling Group - 1
Tory – One

So Labour said nothing and the Conservatives had only one thing worth repeating, and that was not from the person who proposed the amendment to the Lib Dem motion.

And More A14 Chaos

Crashes and breakdowns cause A14 chaos
Published: 08/12/2010 08:13 - Updated: 08/12/2010 10:05

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"The Surgery is Now Closed…"

Is the message from my local surgery as I try to confirm a vaccination time for my daughter. The message sets out helpfully the opening hours and an emergency number for out-of-hours enquiries.

All very odd as I was calling during what the website claims to be the open hours… is it really shut all Tuesday afternoon for an emergency or did someone just forget to change the message?

Again, this never happened in my former doctors’ office found in the so-called sleepy countryside.

Monday, December 6, 2010

England, home and beauty...

Well, Stansted at just after midnight will do fine for me.

Ryanair cancelled 450 flights on Saturday, and Easyjet 100, in addition to the ones halted on Friday afternoon.

For those with a sense of history the term, "intervention by the Spanish military," is not usually received with applause, however the folk at Barcelona airport were very happy to cheer news that the government was taking action. On my flight back even the crew were talking about... Ronald Reagan.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Where´s the Spanish Reagan when you need him?

So, a business trip came to an end and the Spanish air traffic controllers went on strike at 5pm local time, five minutes after I got the airport. It means staying in Spain, which is no hardship, but also a weekend wasted when there were a lot of those chores to do (lots of those in the household right now). Good old Ronnie sorted out his air traffic controllers. Time those Euro wimps did theirs now...