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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 22, 2004

22 January 2004
Tatar Parliament Likely To Appeal First To Duma Over Language Law
The presidium of State Council decided on 21 January that Tatarstan's parliament will not challenge before the Russian Constitutional Court an amendment to the federal law on languages that makes the Cyrillic script mandatory for all official languages (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 18 November and 12 December 2002), reported. The State Council Commission previously appealed to Tatarstan's Constitutional Court for a ruling on whether the Tatar Constitution empowers the republic to decide for itself over use of the Latin script. On 24 December, that court issued a decision saying it is within Tatarstan's power to choose which script it uses for Tatar and to restore the Latin script for Tatar (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 25 December 2003). Commission Chairman Razil Weliev said at the presidium meeting that deputies are satisfied with the court verdict. He suggested that the State Council appeal to the State Duma to seek to annul amendments to federal language legislation on the grounds that they contradict the Russian Constitution and international law; the presidium backed that proposal. He noted that the Tatar parliament might eventually appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court, if necessary.

Pilgrims Depart For Hajj
A group of 150 pilgrims flew from Kazan for Saudi Arabia on 21 January to begin the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca prescribed for Muslims that are able,, RosBalt, and other news agencies reported. Twenty-nine Muslims left from Kazan for that Saudi Arabian city by bus on 12 January. The number of pilgrims has grown despite tighter border procedures and more difficulty arranging accommodation. Air tickets from Kazan this year cost some 50,000 rubles ($1,736), while the bus trip cost 39,500 rubles. Volga District Muslim Religious Board spokesman Akhmed Makhmetov meanwhile told that the number of pilgrims from Saratov Oblast remains low despite a doubling this year. Mufti Moqetdes Bibarsov expressed concern that Muslims pay little attention to the hajj, saying that just one in 10 Muslims able to make the trip in fact do it.

Muslim Religious Board Licensing Republic's Imams
About 800 imams from among Tatarstan's 1,200 Muslim clerics received official permission from the Tatar Muslim Religious Board to participate in "professional religious activities," the group reported on 21 January. More than 300 other clerics are expected to be granted similar permission in the near future. On 19 January, Tatarstan Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov visited Chuprele Raion to present certificates to imams from 28 local Muslim communities with Chuprele Raion administration head Jewdet Gafurov taking part in the ceremony. The board began licensing the activities of Muslim priests roughly one year ago to combat the spread of radical Islamic views that contradict local Muslim tradition. Clerics who do not maintain such permission will be barred from religious services.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Putin Campaign To Open Representation Office In Ufa
Vladimir Putin's campaign headquarters in Bashkortostan will on 23 January open a representation office in Ufa, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 21 January. Lawyers and political experts will be on hand at the office to answer the public's questions regarding the 17 March presidential election. Putin reportedly chose famous eye surgeon Ernst Muldashev to be his main trustee in the republic. This decision reportedly came unexpectedly to Muldashev, who cancelled an overseas trip to take part in Putin's re-election campaign.

Putin's supporters in Bashkortostan have reportedly collected 70,000 signatures backing Putin's registration as a candidate by Russia's Central Election Commission. Some 50,000 of those signatures have reportedly been sent to Moscow.

Editor Claims Support For Opposition Candidate Cost Him His Job
Fail Ekhmetshin, who actively supported opposition candidate Relif Safin in Bashkortostan's December presidential elections, told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 21 January that the Sharan-region newspaper "Sharan Kingleklere" recently abolished the deputy-editor-in-chief position he held and ordered him to leave immediately. Ekhmetshin claimed he was dismissed because of his support for Safin's campaign. Under the Russian Labor Code, Ekhmetshin is eligible to remain at his position for two months after receiving notification of his dismissal.

Following his victory in the republican presidential elections, President Murtaza Rakhimov pledged in interviews that those who were members of his rivals' support teams would not be persecuted.

No Readers For Bashkir Books In Bashkir-Dominated Area?
A village librarian from Bashkortostan's Buzdyak region told an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent on 21 January that although official figures indicate the region is overwhelmingly populated by Bashkirs, none of the local residents express interest in Bashkir books regularly sent there from Ufa. Locals reportedly explain they do not understand Bashkir writing, although during the October 2002 census many residents of the region were listed as having named Bashkir as their native language.

In October 2002, Tatar public organizations in Bashkortostan and some media reported about numerous violations of census procedures and attempts to misreport the ethnic makeup of the population on the part of Bashkir authorities (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 18 and 31 October 2002).

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi