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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 24, 2005

24 January 2005
Shaimiev Rejects Moratorium On Social-Benefits Reform
In an interview with Interfax on 21 January, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev said all speculation about the necessity of a moratorium on implementing the monetization of in-kind social benefits are unfounded. In a market economy, the further preservation of in-kind benefits is hopeless. "Moreover, these two concepts are incompatible," Shaimiev said. He emphasized that delaying the reform for an unspecified period will put all transport and other structures in extremely tight conditions and will damage the quality of services provided. He said the problems with implementing the monetization were caused by the fact that an acceptable mechanism of monetizing in-kind benefits has not been developed. "In this situation, it was unfair to shift the responsibility for failures in implementation of the law to the regional level as some government officials tried to do." Shaimiev added that "we told the federal government, the Unified Russia presidium, and the State Duma commission about the necessity of introducing unified passes, yet during the course of discussing the law but no one listened to us."

Pensioners Continue Protests In Kazan, Chally
Some 200 pensioners demonstrated on 22 January in Kazan to protest the abolishment of in-kind social benefits, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The protest was organized by the Tatar Public Center but Communist and Yabloko banners were also present. Participants announced the establishment of the Movement of Tatarstan's Residents for Socioeconomic Rights and began collecting signatures for its registration. They demanded an independent commission be set up with representatives of the public and state authorities to supervise the republican and Kazan municipal budgets and to decide whether the increase of housing and municipal-service tariffs is justified.

The next day, some 50 pensioners gathered in Kazan to protest the social-benefits reform at an unsanctioned demonstration initiated by the Republican Committee For Labor Supervision (RKRK), Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 23 January, while according to RIA-Novosti, the number of participants was about 100. RKRK Chairman Gennadii Zakharov said that the committed planned to attract schoolchildren, students, and plants workers to the protest and to state about the preparations for a republic-wide strike. However, no one organizer appeared at the meeting and the chair was taken by Tatar State Council Communist deputies Robert Sadyiqov and Nesime Stolyarova. Stolyarova called for the return of all in-kind benefits, "worthy" wages of at least 20,000 rubles ($710.5), and the annulment of the privatization of the republican oil sector.

On 23 January, over 4,000 people took part in a sanctioned demonstration organized in Chally's Victory Park by the Communist Party to protest the reform, Interfax reported the same day. Protestors carried red flags and slogans calling for the dismissal of the president's and government's "regime directed against the people." The Communist Party's Tatar First Secretary Khefiz Mirgalimov said at the meeting that monetary compensations do not cover real public-transport expenses. Signatures were collected at the meeting to the appeal to restore in-kind benefits.

Meanwhile, according to the Tatar Interior Ministry, some 20 organizers of unsanctioned demonstrations in Kazan, Elmet, Chally, and Yeshel Uzen are being prosecuted for causing harm to transport companies, "Vechernyaya Kazan" reported on 22 January.

Anticorruption Strategy Developed
The final version of a plan for fighting corruption was approved by the commission on developing an anticorruption strategy headed by Tatar First Deputy Prime Minister Rawil Moratov, and Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 21 January.. The strategy, developed under the guidance of Moscow INDEM think tank President Georgii Satarov, includes sections devoted to the state of corruption in Tatarstan and instruments to fight it. The document will come into force after it is signed by President Shaimiev.

According to survey results, the average amount of a bribe in the republic is 2,849 rubles ($101). The highest bribes are paid in courts (17,300 rubles) and in land-registry offices (14,700 rubles). The estimated annual cost of corruption is 4.6 billion rubles.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Protestors Demand Bashkir President's Dismissal
A crowd of demonstrators gathered in downtown Ufa on 22 January to protest the transformation of in-kind social benefits to cash payments, Ekho Moskvy reported the same day. Ekho Moskvy estimated the crowd at 5,000 people; the Bashkir Interior Ministry as quoted by said the number of participants was between 1,500 and 2,000; and organizers told Interfax the figure was 10,000. The protest was organized by the Bashkir Republican Fund for Development of Local Self-Government, the Bashkir National Congress, the Union of Bashkortostan's Tatar civic groups, the Rus public movement, and local branches of the Communist, Rodina, Liberal Democratic, Yabloko, and Pensioners parties. Participants demanded the dismissals of federal cabinet members German Gref, Aleksei Kudrin, and Mikhail Zurabov as well as of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov. They also demanded that the law on the monetization of social benefits be annulled and that the election of governors by popular vote be reintroduced. Demonstrators warned that if their demands are not fulfilled by 26 February, they will launch a permanent protest action. Demonstrators shut down Ufa's main motorway for more than half an hour. Activists were also collecting signatures for a petition on holding a referendum on the direct election of city and regional leaders. Many of the demonstrators carried orange flags or otherwise displayed orange, which has been adopted by some protesters in a clear nod to the recent "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine.

Salawat Pensioners Continue Protest
More than 1,000 residents staged a demonstration in Salawat on 21 January against the federal social-benefits reform, Bashinform reported the same day. Demonstrators gathered on the square in front of the Iskra cinema demanded the annulment of the recently enacted law on the monetization of social benefits. Speaking on a local television program on 18 January, Salawat administration head Yurii Alimov said the right to free public transport would be maintained for all benefits recipients until 1 February.

Suspected Attacker In Blagoveshchensk Case Released From Pretrial Detention
The Bashkir Supreme Court has released from pretrial detention Viktor Geroev, one of three businessmen accused of assaulting interior employees in Blagoveshchensk on 8 December. The purported assaults served as the pretext for security raids that have sparked accusations of egregious rights violations by authorities, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 22 January. Blagoveshchensk and Blagoveshchensk Raion acting prosecutor Remzi Emirov said "a person who is accused of a grave crime should be kept in detention." Emirov suggested that Geroev would be able to pressure witnesses in the case.

One of the policemen whom Geroev allegedly attacked has suggested that no such assault occurred (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 20 and 21 January 2005). Human rights activists investigating the event reported that hundreds of the roughly 1,000 Blagoveshchensk residents detained during the raid sought medical treatment for injuries. They cited cases in which young girls accused participants in the security raids of rape.

LUKoil Seeks To Purchase Polief
LUKoil-Neftekhim General Director Aleksei Smirnov said on 21 January that his company will take part in an auction to sell 100 percent of Bashkortostan polyester maker Polief, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 22 January. Polief General Director Jegefer Ebdreshitov predicted that Gazprom and several companies from India, Germany, Singapore, and Italy will take part in the auction.

Under the memorandum signed on 29 December by Bashkir Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov and Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, the Bashkir government will convert Polief's 7 billion-ruble ($250 million) debt to the republican budget into a 17.5 percent stake in the company. The new owner will be required to complete construction of a new production complex and reach the designed capacity of production of 230,000 tons of terephthalic acid and 120,000 tons of polyethylene terephthalate a year within two years. The minimum sale price is 1.6 billion rubles. Three previous auctions to sell Polief, the last in late 2003, failed to attract bidders.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova