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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 13, 2004

13 February 2004
Financial Times: Tatneft Shareholders Unhappy With Tupras Deal
Minority shareholders in Tatneft, Russia's sixth-largest oil company, have appealed to Turkey's prime minister to block the group's purchase of a $1.3 billion stake in the state-owned oil refinery Tupras after alleged procedural violations, the "Financial Times" reported on 12 February, confirming previous reports about the stalled bid (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 February 2004). According to the daily, Tatneft investor Imanagement Services has asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cancel the deal. The minority shareholder was reportedly concerned about the way Tatneft bought the Tupras stake through a small German company, Efremov Kautschuk, but did not reveal its involvement to shareholders until the day after the bid was successful.

Lawyers for Tatneft investors told the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission last week, "We believe Tatneft's failure to make prior disclosure was a material omission in violation of the federal securities laws."

The shareholders also alleged that the transaction, which involved more than 50 percent of Tatneft's assets, was not approved by every director or by a majority of the shareholders at a general meeting, in breach of Russian law. Some investors and analysts reportedly believe that Tatneft cannot finance the deal, arguing that further borrowing will limit the company's ability to repay bond holders and dilute the value of their shares, the "Financial Times" added.

Veshnyakov Emphasizes Importance Of Parliamentary Vote In Tatarstan
Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, visiting Kazan on 12 February, told Tatar parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin that by introducing new electoral procedures for the republican State Council, "deputies have made a wise and a courageous decision, rejecting the system they were elected upon," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. As a result of this year's amendments to Tatarstan's law on parliamentary elections, 100 instead of 130 deputies will sit in the parliament, one-half elected in single-mandate districts and the other half by party lists. Previously, all of the deputies were elected in single-mandate districts and were allowed to also hold jobs in the executive branch.

Veshnyakov noted that this new scheme of parliamentary elections will be implemented this March in five other Russian regions besides Tatarstan. He called for "more open" party lists provided to the voters on the ballots, so that citizens would have more detailed information on candidates representing parties.

He also praised the Tatar parliament for granting his colleagues in Tatarstan, the republican Central Election Commission, the right of legislative initiative, something that is not common in many other regions.

Kazan Hopes To Maintain Treaty-Based Relations With Moscow
"We will have to modify the treaty, to bring it into conformity with present political situation, recent amendments to the Tatar Constitution, and a number of federal laws," Tatar parliamentary speaker Farid Mukhametshin told the meeting devoted to the 10th anniversary of the power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Kazan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. However, Mukhametshin emphasized that in one of his official statements, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that the potential for treaty-based relations between the center and the regions "was not exhausted."

Islamic Leader Promotes Role Of Kazan As Russia's Islamic Center
Dr. Abdullah Ali Basphar, secretary-general of the World Koran Studies Organization under the World Islamic League, visited Kazan's Russian Islamic University on 12 February, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. Basphar told the chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Spiritual Directorate Chairman Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov that "in Kazan, which was the center of Islamic studies of the Russian empire, the Russian Islamic University is resuming this tradition. Here, the Koran is being studied professionally, paying attention to the meaning, beauty, and correctness of reading."

Basphar noted some "significant improvements in Russia's relations with the Islamic world, something that was inspired by President Vladimir Putin's initiative of entering the Organization of the Islamic Conference."

On 13 February, Basphar continued his visit to the Tatar capital by visiting local Muslim religious schools.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

New Presidential Spokesman Appointed
Relations between Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and other state authorities and journalists will become more open and professional, Rakhimov's new spokesman Rostislav Murzagulov said on 12 February. Murzagulov, who was previously a host on Bashkir Television, became known during the December presidential elections after he said on his program that pop singer Alsu, the daughter of Bashkir presidential candidate Relif Safin, is pregnant and that the father was not known, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent noted on 12 February. Murzagulov said the presidential administration admitted that "some inaccuracies" existed in the information policy and is looking to improve the situation. For this, a new press department will be established within the presidential administration that will be charged with "modernizing information policy in the republic." In 1995-97, Murzagulov worked in Bashkortostan's official daily "Sovetskaya Bashkiriya" and from 1999 worked at ORT.

Ufa Children Find Writing To Putin Pays Off
A boy living in Ufa who sent Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter saying he "does not believe in God but believes only in the president" was given a computer, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 12 February. The gift was paid for by local authorities. Another child from Bashkortostan wrote to Putin asking for a puppy. The 8-year-old girl from Ufa received a reply saying her request was sent to the Bashkortostan authorities. Ufa's Soviet Raion administration, charged with dealing with the issue, found out that the girl's family has poor living conditions and not enough money to keep the puppy. The officials said, however, that they cannot avoid presenting a puppy as this is an order by the Kremlin.

Russian Court Rejects Presidential Candidate's Appeal
The Russian Supreme Court on 12 February upheld the decision by the Bashkir Supreme Court rejecting on 1 December a lawsuit by former presidential candidate Rimma Vodenko against the Bashkir State Assembly and President Rakhimov, Regnum reported the same day. Vodenko demanded that the paragraphs of the Bashkir Electoral Code listing the registration fee for presidential candidates at 9.75 million rubles be annulled. Vodenko argued that such a high registration fee infringes on the election rights of Russian citizens, especially of women, who are "as a whole, less well-to-do than men."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova