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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 12, 2005

12 January 2005
Elmet Pensioners Continue To Protest Reform Of Benefit System
Some 300 pensioners in Elmet on 11 January continued the protest that they had begun the previous day against the recent transformation of social benefits from in-kind to cash payments, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The protesters made good on their threat to block traffic on two downtown streets. Pensioners cleared the roads after Tatar First Deputy Prime Minister Rawil Moratov and Social Affairs Minister Klavdia Novikova arrived for negotiations. Muratov told local authorities to more actively explain the new system of benefits.

Companies Transfer Money For Mortgage Construction
Companies in Tatarstan have already signed some 1.4 billion rubles' ($51 million) worth of contracts on the allocation under mortgage loans of funding toward the construction of low-income housing in 2005, Tatarstan's State Housing Fund Executive Director Telget Abdullin told a cabinet briefing on 11 January,, Tatar-inform, and other news agencies reported the same day. Abdullin also said the State Housing Fund's council of trustees has been formed, with President Mintimer Shaimiev at its head. The fund's budget will total 5.18 billion rubles this year. Some 500,000 square meters of housing is earmarked for construction in 2005 under the subsidies program, Abdullin added.

Muslim Religious Board Forms Information Agency
The presidium of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board (TDN) passed a resolution on 11 January to establish an information center, Tatar-inform reported the same day. The new body will be founded on the basis of TDN and Kazan's Russian Islamic University and will be financed from charity. The center's activities will be aimed at "creating a favorable image of Islam and Muslim priests in the media, counteracting the pernicious activities of destructive sects, and propagating Islamic values based on education."

At the presidium meeting, TDN Chairman Gosman Iskhaqov urged that the distribution of leaflets by the Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been deemed an extremist organization, be prevented during the celebration of Eid al-Adha, which is due to fall on 20 January.

Latin Front Appeals To UNESCO Director-General
Latin Front leader and former State Duma Deputy Fendes Safiullin told RFE/RL's Kazan bureau on 11 January that his organization's coordinating board appealed the same day to UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura to defend Tatarstan's right to introduce the Latin script and urged that organization to help efforts to implement that decision. In 2002, legislation was passed under which use of the Cyrillic script is mandatory for all state languages in the Russian Federation. The Latin Front, which unites 63 civic groups, was set up after the Russian Constitutional Court ruled in November that republics cannot make decisions concerning the scripts of their national languages. In the wake of that verdict, Tatarstan abolished its 1999 law on the restoration of Tatar based on the Latin script.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Interior Minister Threatens Media Over Blagoveshchensk Coverage
Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev announced on 11 January that his ministry plans to file lawsuits against regional and national media outlets to defend its employees in connection with reports surrounding the controversial Blagoveshchensk raids (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 3, 6, 7, 10, and 11 January 2005). Divaev singled out "Novaya gazeta," which published an article on 10 January that hinted at brutality by security forces. Divaev accused "Novaya gazeta" of printing "allegations of grave crimes" by Bashkir security forces and said the report will be part of a civil suit or a criminal investigation of the newspaper. Divaev added that lawsuits will be filed once the federal Interior Ministry completes its probe of Bashkir security forces' activities.

"Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 12 January quoted "Novaya gazeta" Deputy Editor Sergei Sokolov saying suits or trials against newspapers, if they take place, will be useful -- as "in this case it will be difficult to conceal incidents of improper actions by security forces."

According to the Bashkir Interior Ministry's press service, the ministry has won more than 20 lawsuits against media outlets in Russian and republican courts and has been paid over 200,000 rubles in damages. Ten more lawsuits are awaiting court dates.

Bashkortostan's deputy prosecutor, Ramil Isquzhin, said a criminal case has been filed over alleged impropriety by security forces during the 10-14 December events, adding that the case involves 150 individuals, including 35 people who sustained injuries.

Reports assert that 500-1,000 Blagoveshchensk residents were detained and many were beaten by security forces following the 8 December incident in which five security troops were beaten by a crowd. Between 25 and 100 victims have appealed to law-enforcement bodies alleging violations by police.

Helsinki Group Alleges Cover-Up Over Blagoveshchensk Events, Urges Ministry's Dismissal
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva told Ekho Moskvy on 11 January that "it is absolutely obvious that the Bashkir Interior Ministry intends not to investigate this shocking incident and punish those guilty but to pervert everything and introduce as praiseworthy service [the actions] of Bashkir interior [troops]." Alekseeva said that "not only is an internal investigation not being held but, on the contrary, there are attempts to misrepresent the case as if a policeman had been beaten and preventive measures had been held strictly within the framework of the law." She added that human rights activists have faced resistance from interior bodies when trying to look into the incident in Blagiveshchensk. Alekseeva said that since the 10-14 December raids, "more than 400 people have appealed to fracture clinics to register tracks of assaults. During the New Year's holiday, Blagoveshchensk employees of law-enforcement bodies visited people's apartments to persuade them to withdraw or refrain from filing complaints against interior employees, Alekseeva said. Alekseeva called for the dismissal of Bashkir Interior Minister Divaev.

Sterletamaq Pensioners Join Protest Actions
An estimated 7,000-8,000 demonstrators marched on the streets and convened a protest in front of the municipal administration building in Bashkortostan's second city, Sterletamaq, on 11 January to voice opposition to the replacement at the federal level of in-kind social benefits -- including free use of public transport -- with cash payments, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. (Interior Ministry sources estimated the crowd at 7,000 and "Kommersant-Daily" at 8,000.) Bashkir Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Sherefetdinov said some 600 policemen were on hand to guard against violence but did not intervene, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 12 January. City administration officials, including Mayor Spartak Ekhmetov, met with protesters and promised to reduce the rates of public transport on 1 February. Meeting participants delivered an appeal to the Russian Federation, republican, and city authorities demanding the continued free use of transport for retirees. An extraordinary session of the City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue within days.

On 9 January, between 3,000 and 4,000 Ufa pensioners took part in a meeting organized by several communist parties.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova