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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 23, 2004

23 January 2004
Bundestag Official Visits Tatarstan
The chairman of the German national parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, Folker Ruhe, said during his meeting with President Mintimer Shaimiev in Kazan on 22 January that Tatarstan plays an important role in developing relations between Europe and Russia and between Russian and the Islamic world,, Tatar-inform, and other news agencies reported. Ruhe is reported to have said that while Tatarstan is located east of Moscow, it has more "Western" thinking, specifically regarding federalism. Ruhe reportedly praised Shaimiev for promoting a multiparty system in Russia and in Tatarstan, adding that favorable conditions exist in Tatarstan for further development of trade and economic relations with Germany. He also expressed his belief that German companies will seek investments in Tatar companies.

Meeting with Farid Mukhametshin the previous day, Ruhe asked the State Council chairman why rightist parties lost the Duma elections while Unified Russia collected so many votes. Mukhametshin said a majority voted for the party backed openly by the Russian president, but added that this does not mean that people do not like democrats. Asked about which people prefer, stability or democratic reforms, Mukhametshin reportedly answered "50-50."

Ruhe's visit is largely devoted to preparations for "Germany Days" in Tatarstan, scheduled for September, as a part of the "Year of German Culture" in Russia. Germany was Tatarstan's third-largest foreign-trade partner in 2002, with bilateral trade turnover of $276.7 million.

Publications Claim Female Suicide Fighters Being Trained In Chally
A female Muslim group uniting women between 16 and 25 years of age has been established in Chally, Kama-press reported on 22 January, quoting an unidentified official source in law enforcement. A free-distribution Chally newspaper with a print run of 140,000 copies handed out to city residents published similar information under the title "Are Female Suicide Islam Warriors Trained In Chally?" RFE/RL's Chally correspondent reported on 21 January. Both reports claim that the purported group's members follow "pure" Islam, and people from outside Tatarstan instruct them in Wahhabism and provide psychological training for them to become suicide fighters. The publication claimed that law-enforcement agencies have warned people to be careful when they meet young women with their headscarves knotted behind their head and whose clothes are made of dense fabric. The Chally Interior Directorate's press service and other law-enforcement bodies did not confirm the allegations reported in those publications, RFE/RL's Chally correspondent reported.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 21 January, World Tatar Congress (BTK) Presidium member Feuziye Beiremova expressed her disagreement with the published reports. She said everyone should defend young Muslim women from persecution. She added that the failure to condemn such reports could contribute to future violations of others' rights. The same day, Beiremova sent an open letter to President Shaimiev to protest the reports as well as appealing to the World Tatar Congress and Tatarstan's ombudsman over the issue.

Federal Official Says Nationality Entry Might Be Revived In Passports
The head of the Russian Interior Ministry's chief passport and visa directorate, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Smirnyi, told reporters on 21 January that the ministry might restore the "nationality" entry in Russian passports and introduce spaces for fingertips and electronic signature, RosBalt reported. Smirnyi also said the "private code" entry that currently exists in the passport but is not filled in will be removed. Smirnyi said those amendments might be introduced in a draft bill on major identification documents for Russian citizens that has already passed its first reading in the State Duma. Tatarstan had been postponing the introduction of new Russian passports, demanding that the inclusion of a "nationality" entry, among other things.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkortostan's Media Minister Discredits Diversity of Opinion in Press
Zoefer Timerbolatov said at a 22 January ministerial conference of heads of state-owned media outlets that, in his opinion, "expression of two different opinions" by one print media source is akin to a person having a split personality, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported.

Local Media's Performance During Presidential Campaign Criticized
During his speech at the above-mentioned 22 January ministerial conference, Media Minister Timerbolatov said that during the presidential election campaign "virtually all" of the regional newspapers in Bashkortostan limited their work to republishing reports from the state-run Bashinform news agency and from statements by republican officials, while demonstrating little initiative of their own, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported.

Bashkirenergo Official Says Energy Tariffs Remain Reasonable
Olga Alekseeva, Bashkirenergo's deputy general director in charge of finance, told reporters on 22 January that following the 15 percent hike of energy rates in January, the average cost of energy for both the urban and rural population in Bashkortostan reached 72.8 kopeks ($0.02) per kilowatt hour, RFE/RL reported. This amount is reportedly nearly that of Russia's average.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi