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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 21, 2005

21 February 2005
Pensioners Continue Protests...
An estimated 300 pensioners staged a picket on Kazan's Theater Square on 20 February to protest price increases in housing and municipal services and other social reforms, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported the same day. The Communist Party, Labor Russia, and the Tatar Public Center organized the demonstration. Protesters also argued that the number of buses that accept the subsidized transport passes meant to soften the blow of the reforms has fallen in Kazan, with commercial buses replacing them.

...Despite Crackdown Against Organizers
Tatarstan's Interior Ministry has filed 16 administrative cases against the accused organizers of recent public protests that targeted the social-benefits reform in January, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 18 February. The news agency quoted ministry press-service deputy head Valerii Myakishev as saying the cases include alleged violations of public order and blocking traffic, which can be punished with a fine of 10-25 times the minimum wage or up to 15 days of incarceration. Myakishev said some courts have already concluded cases, limiting punishment to warnings. During the meetings organized by the Republican Committee for People's Control (RKRK) with the support of the Tatar Public Center in Kazan on 15, 17, 18, and 19 January, protesters shut down Tatarstan street for several hours. Accusations of violating public order were leveled at RKRK Chairman Gennadii Zakharov and Trudovaya Rossiya Tatarstan's branch Chairwoman Mariya Kapranova, among others.

Audit Chamber Finds Financial Violations
Tatarstan's Audit Chamber has concluded that some 362 million rubles ($13 million) of financial mismanagement by the republican Fund for Obligatory Medical Insurance, the Research and Development Fund, and the Environmental Fund, reported on 17 February, citing the Audit Chamber's press service. The results of the audits were released at a chamber board session in Kazan on 16 February. An estimated 149 million rubles is believed to have been used inefficiently, while auditors allege that fraud or abuses account for another 21 million rubles. Audit Chamber Chairman Aleksei Demidov told the gathering that his chamber has uncovered some 986 million rubles' worth of misspending in one year of operation.

Documentation concerning the Environmental Fund's purchase without a tender of 46 KamAZ trucks from a Moscow-based company has reportedly been turned over to police.

Russian Newspaper Predicts Shaimiev's Reappointment
"Rossiiskaya gazeta" wrote on 16 February that Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, unlike many political veterans, has every chance of being reappointed to head the republican administration.

However, the newspaper also cited a "leak" suggesting that Shaimiev might be replaced by Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev.

Meanwhile, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 16 February quoted Institute of Regional Issues Director Maksim Dianov commenting that "Tatarstan needs a more astute leader who can act within the stream of oriental policy."

Observers questioned by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" said they considered the selection of Nurgaliev unlikely due to the public reception it would receive. Some of the same people suggested that a Nurgaliev administration would embark on a sizable redistribution of assets despite opposition from the "Shaimiev clan." Makarkin said Nurgaliev's ability to "curb regional opposition" and his manageability make him an attractive candidate to the Kremlin.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Orthodox Church Spurs Checks On Occult Businesses
Bashkortostan's authorities are conducting thorough inspections of establishments maintained by fortunetellers and occult centers practicing what is often billed as alternative medical treatment, an RFE/RL correspondent in Ufa reported on 19 February. The inspections come as a result of complaints by representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in Bashkortostan, who appealed to acting chief prosecutor Mikail Zelepukin and Health Minister Fanil Shamigulov. Archbishop Nikon expressed concern over alleged activities of organized criminal groups, which church representatives say exploits human belief in witchcraft to effectively extort money. He charged that such places offer health-care-type services without the proper licenses or accountability.

The authorities have handed out administrative fines to such businesses that lack the required cash registers, but they suggest that the lack of complaints from customers or accusations of wrongdoing. Many of those purporting to practice such alternative methods avoid official registration in Bashkortostan, making them difficult to locate.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi