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Belarus cancels transit levy on Russian oil - PM

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"The Belarusian government declares void the state tax on oil transit via Belarus imposed by the council of ministers," Sergei Sidorsky said.
MINSK, January 10 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus's prime minister said Wednesday his country had lifted its transit levy on Europe-bound Russian oil, meeting Russia's condition for talks on the current energy standoff between the former Soviet allies.

Belarus introduced a transit fee of $45 per metric ton for Russian crude transit on January 1 after Moscow doubled the natural gas price for its neighbor and canceled the duty-free regime of oil supplies. Russia then cut off exports to Europe, accusing Belarus of tapping oil.

"The Belarusian government declares void the state tax on oil transit via Belarus imposed by the council of ministers," Sergei Sidorsky said.

The premier said he would go to Russia Thursday for two days of talks with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov.

"I hope within two days we will settle all differences and clear all claims relating to Russian oil supplies to Western countries and Russian oil companies' supplies to refineries in Belarus," the premier said.

The Belarusian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov, in Moscow since Monday, will also continue talks. The negotiators are to present their proposed solutions to their countries' presidents on Friday.

However, a source in the Russian government said the talks would start Wednesday following Minsk's decision to lift the transit levy.

Russia's economics minister insisted on Tuesday that Moscow would not enter negotiations on ending the energy dispute until Belarus lifted the transit fee.

The row began when Moscow doubled the gas price for Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters as of January 1, and imposed an oil export duty of $180.7 per metric ton, charges that could deal a heavy blow to the economy of the country, which is building a political union with Russia.

The interruption of supplies has affected Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and further damaged Russia's reputation as a core energy supplier to Europe following a similar energy row with Ukraine involving natural gas, this time last year.

Supplies along the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline will be resumed in the next few hours, according to Tomasz Zakrzewski, a spokesman for PERN, the company that runs the Polish section of one of the world's largest pipelines.

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