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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 27, 2004

27 April 2004
Trade Unions Hold Rally In Front Of Kazan Administration Building
Some 2,000 people gathered in front of the Kazan city administration's office to protest against the resumption of higher housing rates and the city's failure to provide services to their homes, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The rally was organized by Tatarstan's Trade Unions Federation, whose leaders said during the rally that the implementation of rent hikes wiped out salary raises received by state employees. The protest meeting was followed by closed-doors talks between the federation's leaders and Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov.

Russia's Ambassador To Uzbekistan Visits Kazan
President Mintimer Shaimiev met with Russia's Ambassador to Uzbekistan Ferit Mokhemetshin on 19 April for talks on Tatarstan's role in increasing economic cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan, as was recently discussed by the Russian and Uzbek presidents in Moscow, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Mokhemetshin said following the closed-door meeting in Kazan that various ways of facilitating such cooperation were discussed, including training Uzbek industry experts at Tatar companies in return for the sharing of industrial technologies on the part of the Uzbeks.

Mokhemetshin referred to the general political situation in Uzbekistan as "stable, characterized by a warm and friendly attitude toward its Russian-speaking population."

Before being transferred to the Russian Embassy in Uzbekistan, Ambassador Mokhemetshin served as Tatarstan's plenipotentiary representative to the Russian Federation from 1995-99.

Tatar presidential Foreign Affairs Department head Timur Akulov said that bilateral Tatar-Uzbek trade in 2003 totaled $21 million, most of it represented by deliveries of KamAZ heavy trucks to Uzbekistan. He mentioned that Taneft oil company has expressed a special interest in offering its services for oil and gas exploration in Uzbekistan.

Tatarstan To Cooperate With Russia's Academy Of Sciences
Tatarstan's government and the Russian Academy of Sciences signed an agreement on bilateral cooperation in chemistry, petrochemical research, and ecology in Moscow on 20 April, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. The agreement is to promote joint efforts for technological research in consumer-goods production, pollution prevention, and energy-saving techniques in industry. The document was signed by Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov and the president of the Academy of Sciences, Yurii Osipov.

Tatarstan's FSB Gets New Chief
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev met in Kazan with Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev on 21 April to present FSB Major General Yevgenii Vdovin, who was recently named the agency's new chief in the republic, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Vdovin, 51, who most recently headed the FSB Directorate in the Udmurtia Republic, replaces General Aleksandr Gusev, who was elected as a deputy in Tatarstan's State Council in March and was subsequently chosen to head the parliamentary committee on legal issues and ethics.

FSB Chief Visits Kazan-Based Islamic University
Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Nikolai Patrushev visited the Islamic University of Russia in Kazan on 22 April to tour its educational facilities and participate in a roundtable on the university's history and ways to promote religious tolerance, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today (see "RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Report," 22 April 2004). At the roundtable, Patrushev told Tatarstan State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, first deputy Prime Minister Rawil Moratov, Security Council Secretary Vener Selimov, and university rector and republican Muslim Religious Board Chairman Gosman Iskhaqov, "There are some circles that are trying to use Islam for extremist purposes." But he stressed, "Islam, being one of the classical religions, has nothing in common with extremism and expressions of terrorism." Patrushev added that, in his opinion, state bodies and Islamic clerics face the task of delivering the true understanding of that religion to people. "That is why education at the Islamic University of Russia is important," Patrushev added.

TAIF To Seek Strategic Investor For Kazanorgsintez Petrochemical Plant
Majority owner TAIF Group is preparing a $100 million rights issue that it hopes will usher in a strategic investor at the Kazanorgsintez petrochemical plant, "Vremya i Dengi" reported on 23 April. The previous day, Orgsintez's supervisory board approved a plan for the company's development through 2011 that sets out an increase in annual turnover from the current 12 billion rubles ($414 million) to 35 billion rubles and a fivefold increase in profits. The company plans some $900 million in investment.

FSB, Police Nab Arms-Smugglers
Federal Security Service authorities in Tatarstan detained a group of suspected couriers in possession of 12 hand grenades and 800 grams of TNT in Chally, Tatar-inform reported on 22 April. Special services, along with local police, also recently seized two other groups of couriers attempting to smuggle similar explosives, handguns, machine guns, and ammunition from Chechnya for sale in Tatarstan's Kama region.

Altai Republic's Legislative Speaker Visits Tatarstan
President Mintimer Shaimiev on 23 April met with Altai Republic State Assembly Chairman Igor Yaimov, who was on a two-day visit to Tatarstan to establish business, political, and cultural contacts, and Tatar-inform reported. Yaimov invited the Tatar president to attend celebrations in the Altai Republic in 2006 marking the 250th anniversary of Altai joining Russia. Yaimov said the people of the Altai Republic are linked to Tatarstan by common lineage, as Altai is an ancient motherland of all Turkic peoples and the location of the first Turkic state. At a meeting with State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin, Yaimov discussed the prospects of signing a bilateral interparliamentary agreement and it was decided that parliamentary delegations should exchange visits. Yaimov, who visited several agricultural regions and farms the previous day, said Tatarstan's use of new technologies in cattle breeding, crop growing, and business management in the agriculture sphere can be held up as a model for the Altai Republic. Approximately two of three residents of the Altai Republic live in rural areas.

Day Of Native Language Celebrated In Tatarstan
Deputy Prime Minister Zile Welieva on 26 April addressed residents of the republic on the occasion of the Day of Native Language, saying that native languages ensure the survival of peoples' individuality, "Respublika Tatarstan" reported. Welieva said the republic's authorities constantly work to develop the languages of the peoples of Tatarstan, and noted that a state program is being implemented to protect native languages. Preparations for ratification by the Russian Federation of the European Charter of Regional and Minorities' Languages make it important for Russia and federation subjects to pay greater attention to the issue, Welieva said in a written address.

Meanwhile, the first Tatar gymnasium in Ulyanovsk Oblast will be opened this year in Dimitrovgrad, Regnum reported on 23 April, citing The Tatar language and literature will be taught in all of the school's 11 grades. Instruction on artistic and aesthetic subjects will be held in Tatar, while major subjects will be taught in Russian. Gymnasium graduates will be provided quotas to enter Tatarstan's institutions of higher education.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Supreme Court Confirms Election Of Opposition Leader As Parliament Deputy
The Bashkir Supreme Court has ordered the republic's Central Election Commission (USK) to register Anatolii Dubovskii, the opposition Rus movement leader, as a State Assembly deputy, RosBalt reported on 19 April. In the March 2003 parliamentary elections, Dubovskii received 32 percent of vote compared to 17 percent for his closest rival, but a local election commission annulled the results, saying that several polling stations in the district had power failures for a short time during the vote.

Dubovskii appealed the decision in a raion court and in the Bashkir Supreme Court. On 9 June, the Supreme Court ordered the USK to register Dubovskii as a deputy but USK failed to do so. The 19 April ruling said that delaying Dubovskii's registration as a deputy is illegal. USK representatives said they will appeal the verdict.

U.S. Diplomats Visit Ufa
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Russia John Baerli said on 19 April in Ufa that the United States is revising its relations with the Islamic world and extending contacts with residents of Islamic states, including former Soviet republics, and at the same time cut funding for training Russians in the United States, "Kommersant" reported on 20 April. Baerli also said he has never seen such a good period in relations between the United States and Russia over the last 35 years. Those relations have a "very firm basis" and the two countries' leaders "found common language," Baerli said.

The delegation also included U.S. Yekaterinburg consul general Scott Roland and Islamic studies professor Omar Halidi, and met with Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ufa Mayor Pavel Kachkaev, and Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Minister Boris Kolbin. Baerli said U.S. investors are interested in cooperating with Russian regions marked by economic growth, political and economic stability, and interethnic harmony like Bashkortostan. Bilateral trade between Bashkortostan and the United States dropped from its maximum of $112 million in 2000 to $34 million last year.

TsDUM Leaders Refuse To Meet With U.S. Diplomats
The Ufa-based Central Muslim Spiritual Directorate (TsDUM) has issued a statement saying a proposed meeting with high-ranking U.S. diplomats is impossible and demanded that all foreign military forces immediately leave Iraq, reported on 16 April. "The past year provided evidence that accusations by the United States and England against Iraq are unfounded," the statement said. "The entire world has been shown proof of the illegal use of military aggression regarding this state." The TsDUM's External Relations Department commented that the statement came in reaction to an appeal by U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Russia John Baerli, U.S. Consul General to Yekaterinburg Scott Roland, and U.S. Department of State representative Omar Halidi to arrange a meeting with the board's leadership.

Tax Collection Falls In Bashkortostan
Bashkortostan's tax bodies collected 7.3 billion rubles ($254 million) for the federal budget in the first three months of the year, RosBalt reported on 20 April, citing the Russian Tax Ministry's Bashkir Board. The amount is 30 percent down from the 2003 rate. In total, the republican budget revenues reduced by 11 percent to 14.8 billion rubles compared to the previous year. There was a 32 percent growth, however, in the amount of income tax collected. Bashkortostan is third on the list of Volga Federal District regions in terms of collecting taxes in the first quarter of 2004.

Opposition Newspaper Renews Printing
Bashkortostan's opposition newspaper "Meidan" has renewed printing, an RFE/RL correspondent in Ufa reported on 18 April. The Russian-language newspaper stopped printing after the December 2003 presidential elections. The newspaper, launched by former ideologist of the Bashkir Youth Union Airat Dilmokhemmetov, expressed views in opposition to President Murtaza Rakhimov. The newspaper is being printed in the Orenburg Oblast.

Skyguide Head Reports Progress In Crash Compensation Negotiations
Alan Rossier, the head of the Swiss air traffic control service Skyguide, told "Argumenty i fakty" on 21 April that 12 families of victims of the July 2002 midair collision over southern Germany had agreed on compensation sums. The crash claimed 71 lives, including 52 children, mostly from Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002). Rossier said the amounts of the compensation payments are confidential as required by the victims' relatives. Rossier said that his service is interested in the speedy resolution of the case. He denied reports that families of the two pilots of the DHL jet involved in the collision have received $1.5 million in compensation each.

Special Interior Ministry Troops To Be Based In Bashkortostan
A detachment of Interior Ministry special troops will be moved from Primorskii Krai to Bashkortostan in a short time, the head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate in the Volga Federal District, Vladimir Shcherbakov, said on 21 April in Ufa. Shcherbakov said the issue was discussed the same day at a meeting with President Murtaza Rakhimov. Shcherbakov said the unit will be used for securing civic order during public events in Ufa and guarding underground construction of the subway in Ufa. If necessary it will be sent to hot spots, including Chechnya and the Russian-Kazakh border. Apartments for unit officers will be constructed in Ufa with federal money. Shcherbakov said the detachment has the most modern equipment. While in the republic the unit will be subordinate to the Bashkir interior minister.

Rakhimov Delivers Annual Message
President Murtaza Rakhimov said in his annual address to parliament and the citizens of Bashkortostan on 22 April that a major priority for the State Assembly this year is to amend the republican constitution so it conforms with federal laws on the formation of legislative and executive bodies in federation subjects, Bashinform, RosBalt and other news agencies reported. He also said the parliament is to provide a legal basis for the federal law on local self-government by revising the system of local state authority and self-government bodies, territories of municipal entities, and the division of state and municipal property.

The president characterized the republic as "one of the strongest regions of Russia," noting that it is a donor region to the federal budget. Much of the republic's budget revenues were generated from the production and refining of oil. The republic exported more than 40 percent of its overall production. Rakhimov also said Bashkortostan must do its part to contribute to the effort to double Russia's GDP by 2010. He said republic's gross regional product grew by 32 percent in 1999-2003. He called for state support of defense and light industries and "reasonable protectionism" in the agro-industrial sector. He promised that the number of staffers working for state officials will be cut and that the fight against corruption will be strengthened.

Rakhimov also said the republic will develop its network of representative offices throughout Russia, the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and abroad, and to increase cooperation with member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Interior Minister Denies Former UralSib President Wanted By Feds
Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev on 21 April denied rumors that former UralSib bank President Azat Qormanaev is wanted by federal law enforcement bodies, RosBalt reported on 22 April. Divaev the ministry has received no complaints regarding Qormanaev, and that the ministry has no claims against him.

Qormanaev headed UralSib from its founding in 1993 to December 2003, when a state-owned share of the bank was sold off to NIKoil and a former manager of that company, Fuad Akhundov, replaced him. Qormanaev remains a member of the bank's Observation Council.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Chavash President Dissolves Government
Chavash President Nikolai Fedorov dismissed the republic's government on 23 April, RIA-Novosti reported the same day, citing the presidential administration. Government First Deputy Chairman Sergei Gaplikov was appointed acting chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Hunger Strikers Beaten In Chelyabinsk Oblast Prisons
Some 400 prisoners in Chelyabinsk Oblast's three penitentiaries began a hunger strike to protest a toughening regimen, cutting of meal portions, and seizure of private objects, Novyi region (Chelyabinsk) reported on 23 April. In Verkhneuralsk prison where the action started on 22 April, nine participants committed suicide the next day in reaction to sanctions against hunger strikers. Ural Amnesty Fund Chairman Antonina Sokolova told the news agency that said dozens of strikers have been beaten and sent to a punishment cell. She reported that wardens set dogs on the protesters and beat them with sticks and hammers.

Volzhsk Mayor Convicted Of Embezzlement...
The Volzhsk, Marii El Republic, city court sentenced on 23 April Mayor Nikolai Svistunov to 4 years in prison for embezzling 358,000 rubles ($12,400), Regnum reported the same day. According to prosecutors, Svistunov used money allocated for the reconstruction of the Volzhsk central stadium to build his own house. Svistunov said he will appeal the verdict, "Kommersant" reported on 27 April. Svistunov has repeatedly said that he is being persecuted for his opposition to Marii El President Leonid Markelov.

...And Yoshkar-Ola Mayor Loses Defamation Suit
Yoshkar-Ola Mayor Vladimir Tarkov has lost a defamation suit against "Mariiskaya pravda," Regnum reported on 22 April. Tarkov filed a lawsuit over an article that said that "70 percent of Yoshkar-Ola residents seek a new mayor." The article also suggested that the mayor prefers "renting municipal property to rich residents, constructing select housing in place of playgrounds, covering roads with potholes, and singing and dancing." Tarkov sought 100,000 rubles in compensation. The Yoshkar-Ola city court, however, ruled that the newspaper has the right to freely report public opinion under existing legislation.

Nizhnii Novgorod Mosque Defiled
The Nizhnii Novgorod Tauba Mosque was vandalized on 22 April, RosBalt reported, citing the Nizhnii Novgorod Muslim Spiritual Directorate. Swastikas were painted on the mosque's walls and its windows were broken. Directorate representatives said the mosque is constantly being vandalized and people in the mosque threatened, adding that the group has repeatedly appealed to police and the Avtozavodskii Raion administration but nothing has been done. Chairman Gomer Idrisov said the directorate "should not be the only institution to take action against violators as a clash between Muslims and raion residents could lead to unpredictable consequences. This is the obligation of the city authorities."

FSB Concerned With Religious Sects
The Federal Security Service (FSB) in Nizhnii Novgorod has registered attempts by members of religious sects to penetrate state authority bodies, directorate department head Anatolii Artamonov said at a roundtable on fighting destructive religious sects in Nizhnii Novgorod on 22 April, Regnum reported the same day. Artamonov said Scientologists in Nizhnii Novgorod deliver lectures to employees of a Nizhnii Novgorod maternity hospital and sell their literature to its patients. Meanwhile, the health program promoted by Scientologists is widely considered destructive, the FSB official claimed. He said religious sects rent space in secondary schools and kindergartens to hold their gatherings. Meanwhile, there have been several cases in Russia in recent years where parents refused blood transfusion for their children for religious reasons, several of which led to the children's deaths.

At the same roundtable, Nizhnii Novgorod Interior Ministry Academy head Vyacheslav Kanygin said police have become the object of close attention by Jehovah's Witnesses, Hari Krishnas, and other religious sects.

Ulyanovsk Skinheads Attack Jewish Center
Eight drunken youths attacked the Ulyanovsk Jewish center in the afternoon of 22 April, reported on 23 April, shouting anti-Semitic slogans. They left after five minutes of destroying emblems and symbols, saying they will return in a couple of weeks and do the same. Three elderly women and a teenager who were in the center at the time did not resist.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova