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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 5, 2005

5 April 2005
Tatarstan Discusses Cooperation With Microsoft
Olga Dergunova, president of Microsoft in Russia and the CIS, met with Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on 28 March to discuss the terms of the future long-term agreement between the software corporation and Tatarstan's government, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. Microsoft reportedly offered its services in developing Tatar-language multimedia software, electronic government portals, teaching Tatar university students to use the latest information technologies, and introducing the new copyright system for securing the republic's art and software packagers. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Dergunova asked them to allow three more weeks before announcing concrete results of the talks.

Tatarstan Cited Among Regions With Relatively High Wages
According to the "Rossiya" weekly's ranking of average monthly wages in Russian regions in 2004, North Ossetia had the lowest average wage at 3973 rubles ($141), a 36 percent in increase from 2003, while Tatarstan was rated 58th out of 89 regions with an average wage of $198, a 22.3 percent increase from 2003. According to the weekly, Bashkortostan was 54th, while Moscow was 68th.

Tatar Cabinet Resigns
Following President Mintimer Shaimiev's reintroduction as Tatarstan's president on 25 March, Prime Minister Minnikhanov announced on 28 March that members of his cabinet are to be considered as acting before the president appoints the new government, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. Minnikhanov used the government meeting on 28 March to ask his subordinates to offer their resignations so that there are less formalities to deal with in case of a cabinet reshuffle. Minnikhanov also announced his official resignation. Shaimiev is to name the new prime minister within one week.

Agriculture Minister Says Bread Price Will Remain Stable
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Marat Ekhmetov told Tatar-inform on 29 March that the retail price of bread, which is considered a serious factor affecting social stability in Tatarstan, will remain at its present level. Ekhmetov confirmed that the price of grain is currently low. However, he also said that the new harvesting season could push up prices of fuel and lubricants for agricultural machinery, which could cause a spike in grain and bread prices.

Daily Notes Shaimiev's Tendency To Lobby For Tatar Interests
The monthly rating of Russia's top regional lobbyists published by "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" on 29 March cited Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev as the third major promoter of his republic's interests. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was named in first and Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev was rated 5th.

Islamic College Officially Registered In Kazan
Kazan Islamic College has become the second religious school to be officially registered as a higher-educational institution with the republic's Education Ministry, Tatar-inform reported on 29 March. The college, which has been operating for over two years, is reportedly popular among students from Russia and CIS countries.

Shaimiev Insists Russia Will Have To Return To Direct Gubernatorial Elections...
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev told Ekho Moskvy radio on 30 March that Russia's return to the direct election of regional governors "is merely a question of time," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. He said that following the reform abolishing these elections, the Tatar parliament did not eliminate the republic's constitutional provision on the election of the republican leader, but rather suspended it. However, Shaimiev declined to define when exactly direct elections will be reinstated, which he called a "question as complicated as the weather forecast." He also said that Tatarstan is not planning to merge with any other territorial entities of Russia.

...And Outlines Similarities Between Kyrgyzstan And Bashkortostan
Commenting on the recent dramatic developments in Kyrgyzstan and the public demonstrations in Bashkortostan, President Shaimiev said in the same Ekho Moskvy interview that Tatarstan does not need its own revolution, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. He said Tatarstan experienced an extremely complicated situation in the early 1990s and "luckily enough, then we managed to find a solution for these problems." Shaimiev claimed that "Bashkortostan and Kyrgyzstan had no intangible problems, but they have to be dealt with this way or another."

Tatar Public Center Elects New Chairman
The Tatar Public Center (BTIU) unanimously elected political analyst and journalist Telget Bariev its new chairman at its plenary session on 2 April, Tatarinform reported the same day. The forum was attended by 116 delegates, including 51 from Kazan, 53 from Tatarstan's raions, 12 from Russia's entities, and 51 guests. The session also elected new regional council comprising more than 50 representatives and a presidium of 14 members. For the past six years, the group has been headed by scholar Reshit Jegeferov.

Crimean Tatars Oppose Stalin Monument In Crimea
The deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' Milli Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, contacted Crimean prosecutors to protest a decision by the Livadia settlement council to erect a monument to commemorate Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt. The decision passed recently in an overwhelming 19-1 vote. Crimean Communist leader Leonid Grach called for a space on the central square in Livadia for the monument, which is due to be erected by Victory Day celebrations on 9 May. Grach charged that only "national radicals from the Mejlis" oppose the monument. A number of Crimean Tatar writers issued a public appeal against the construction of the monument.

Alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir Supporters Go To Trial In Elmet
An Elmet city court held a hearing on 31 March in the criminal cases against five local residents accused of distributing materials for the banned Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir group, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 2 April. Prosecutors have asked for a minimum of two years in prison for the defendants. Tahir Sairuzov, Eldar Khemzin, Ildar Shaikhetdinov, Eduard Nizamov, and Airat Nurullin were arrested by the Federal Security Service in late 2004 for distributing leaflets and books propagating Hizb ut-Tahrir and stand accused of inciting national, racial, and religious hatred.

Sairuzov refused to testify at the hearing, claiming he was tortured. Defense lawyers argued that literature seized from the accused was not subjected to expert scrutiny to determine whether it is extremist. The lawyers also argued there is no evidence that the suspects are Hizb ut-Tahrir followers.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Election Official Presents Referendum Results...
Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) Chairman Baryi Kinjegulov told a press conference on 28 March that the 27 March referendum on the structure of local self-government bodies was held in accordance with legislation and its results cannot be contested in court, RosBalt reported on 28 March. Kinjegulov was reacting to opposition statements on the intention to appeal the referendum results in court. Kinjegulov said the USK agreed every step during preparations for the referendum with the legal departments of the Bashkir government and the Russian Central Election Commission. He added that the complex formulation of the question proposed for the vote is "legally correct."

Ninety percent of voters backed the system of local self-government bodies including local councils and city, town, and raion administrations, Interfax-Povolzhe reported. Kinjegulov said turnout was 94.5 percent in rural raions, 76 percent in cities and towns, and 63 percent in Ufa. Some 96 percent of rural residents, 88 percent of city and town residents, and 87 percent of Ufa residents voted in favor of the proposed system of local self-government.

The order of electing city, town, and raion administration heads will be determined by January 2006 as is required by federal law, Kinjegulov said. The law permits three variants, including direct public elections, electing by councils of deputies and hiring under contracts. Kinjegulov added that the third variant is the most suitable for Bashkortostan.

...As Opposition Believes Results Falsified
"Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 29 March quoted the head of the coordinating council of the united opposition, Ramil Bignov, as saying, "people were forced to vote for the variant suitable for authorities by deception." Bignov said the voting results were falsified since exit polls by the opposition showed that people thought they voted for direct elections of heads of city, town, and raion administrations. The question proposed for the referendum asked whether the electorate agreed to maintain a two-level system of local self-government bodies including a local town or raion council headed by a chairman and a local administration led by an administration head. It did not, however, specify the way of electing or appointing administration heads. Numerous media outlets mistakenly reported that the referendum was on voting for direct elections of local administration heads.

Blagoveshchensk Authorities Shut Down Independent Weekly
Blagoveshchensk city authorities shut down the local independent weekly "Zerkalo" without giving any formal reason, forcibly evicting Editor in Chief Veronika Shakhova from the office, the Bashkortostan edition of "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 24 March. According to the newspaper, "Zerkalo" was the first to report on the violent December 2004 police raid there. Shakhova denied reports in Bashkortostan's state media saying that she joined the pro-government Blagoveshchensk public council that was organized to oppose the "information war" against local police by the Russian media.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Signs Preterm Resignation...
Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin informed President Vladimir Putin that he resigned from his post ahead of schedule according to the amended federal law that abolished direct elections of regional heads, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 April, citing the oblast gubernatorial press service. Sumin won his first gubernatorial elections in 1993 but the Kremlin kept Vadim Solovev, who was appointed by then President Boris Yeltsin in 1991, as governor. In December 1996, Sumin again defeated Solovev and in December 2000 was reelected for a term that expires in December 2005. Oblast legislature deputies have stated their readiness to back Sumin's candidacy for reappointment to the post.

...As Penza Oblast Governor Asked Not To Hurry
Penza Oblast Governor Vasilii Bochkarev has revoked the request for early resignation he had sent to President Putin, �Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 April. Bochkarev was asked to wait, as "the presidential administration is very busy." The daily quoted analysts as commenting that the Kremlin still has not determined a candidate to head the oblast. According to the daily, the governor signed his appeal in mid-March but concealed it carefully. Analysts explain this by saying the governor is not sure Putin will submit him as a candidate for governor. State Duma Deputies Igor Rudenskii and Viktor Lazutkin as well as State Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin are listed as possible candidates.

Three Killed In Military Exercises In Chelyabinsk Oblast
Three servicemen died and eight were injured during firing exercises in Chelyabinsk Oblast on 1 April, Regnum reported the same day, citing the Volga-Ural Military District's prosecutor's office. The incident was caused by a mine breaking off in a mortar barrel. The three dead were from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug.

Tax Official To Represent Mordovia On Federation Council
Mordovia's State Assembly approved the appointment of Federal Tax Service deputy head Aleksandr Smirnov on 1 April as representative of the republic's president to the Federation Council, Interfax-Povolzhe and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 and 4 April, respectively. The position fell vacant after Yukos-RM President Nikolai Bychkov gave it up. According to the daily, the Mordovian president is seeking to rid the republic of being known as close to Yukos.

Public Doesn't Trust Media In Perm Oblast
An opinion poll by the Perm Oblast administration revealed that less than half of residents trust information reported by electronic and printed mass media outlets, Novyi region (Perm) reported on 30 March. Administration Social Monitoring Sector head Viktor Burko explained the results with the fact that themes covered by media are of little interest for people. Some 37 percent of people questioned said they are interested in issues of criminality, 33 percent in those of high prices, and 20 percent are concerned with stratification of the population, its division into rich and poor people, and unemployment.

Samara Duma Abolishes Direct Election Of Mayor
The Samara city duma passed a new city charter on 31 March under which the Samara mayor will be elected by the city parliament from its deputies, not by the public, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 April. As a result, incumbent Mayor Georgii Limanskii will govern only through July 2006, when his term expires. The amendment was initiated by Limanskii's opponents on the duma, who had been trying to pass it for over six months. In the duma, which was elected in July, 23 deputies are in strong opposition to Limanskii while 10 were considered his supporters. At the last session, two former supporters joined the opposition.

Dormitory Residents Halt Hunger Strike In Samara
Over 20 participants in a hunger strike in the Kryazh settlement near Samara halted the strike on 4 April, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the same day, citing the Samara Oblast government. Dormitory residents held a five-day hunger strike in March after concrete girders fell in it and on 28 March demanded to be moved from the building. The hunger strike was stopped after oblast Health Ministry officials visited the building and guaranteed that the issue will be resolved soon. The governor's reserve fund has allocated 16 million rubles for repairs. Five hundred people, including 200 children, live in the dormitory.

Udmurt Authorities Use Waltzes Against Street Protesters...
Some 7,000 demonstrators in Udmurtia's capital Izhevsk demanded on 3 April that the law abolishing in-kind social benefits be annulled and republican President Aleksandr Volkov be dismissed, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 April. Authorities tried to break up the protest by blasting waltzes by Johann Strauss and monologues by satirist Mikhail Zhvanetskii at high volume through loudspeakers on the square but stopped it after participants rushed to storm the Opera and Ballet Theater.

...As Opposition Initiates Referendum
The Udmurtia's Central Election Commission will consider an appeal on setting up an initiative group to hold a referendum to abolish the post of republican president, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 30 March. An unidentified representative of the commission told the news agency that the appeal received by commission on 24 March is to be heard within 15 days. The commission has already sent to Udmurtia's State Council an appeal by another initiative group seeking to hold a referendum to maintain direct elections of the republic's head by the public, the source said.

Persecutions Of Muslims Spark Protests
Human rights leaders, including Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseeva and Foundation for Muslim People head Gayar Iskanderov, held a press conference on 4 April in Moscow to protest the persecution of Muslims in Russia, reported the same day. Participants criticized the unjustified arrests of Muslims and announced that demonstrations will be organized in the nearest future to protest repression against Muslims. The human rights activists blamed leaders of official Muslim bodies as well, saying a split between the Council of Muftis of Russia and the Central Muslim Religious Board (TsDUM) resulted in the fact that TsDUM representatives began sending denunciations of their opponents to law enforcement bodies.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova