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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 27, 2004

27 February 2004
Minnikhanov To Discuss Tupras Deal In Ankara
Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov, who is also the chairman of Tatneft's Executive Board, arrived in Ankara, Turkey on 26 February for talks about the results of the privatization of the Tupras petrochemical holding, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. Minnikhanov, accompanied by Tatneft General Director Shefeget Takhautdinov, is due to meet with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan, and senior management at the Zorlu Holding, a subsidiary of Tatneft. According to the Tatar government's press service, the visit aims to develop the Tatneft oil company's cooperation with Tupras and boost the exports of Tatarstan's oil, KamAZ trucks, and Oka vehicles.

Previous reports have said that 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 Tupras holding after alleged procedural violations (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 and 13 February 2004). One of Tatneft's investors, Imanagement Services, has asked 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.

Parliament To Sign Off On Tatar Script Affair...
The Tatar parliament resolved in its 26 February session to appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court about the legality of the Russian Federation's Peoples' Languages law, which obliges territorial entities to use the Cyrillic script for their ethnic languages, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The State Council noted in its address that the Russian Constitution allows the ethnic republics to adopt and maintain other state languages besides Russian and therefore republics should be allowed to regulate their own linguistic matters. This point was upheld by Tatarstan's Constitutional Court on 24 February, however two months from that date officials from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office appealed to the Tatar Supreme Court seeking to annul the 1997 law on the reform of the Tatar Latin script. In March, along with electing the Russian president, Tatarstan will hold a vote for the republic's new parliament.

...Adopts New Law Defining President's Status
Tatarstan's State Council approved a package of amendments to the republic's constitution in a third and final reading on 26 February, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. The amendments, which are now to be endorsed by the president, say that the republic's top executive cannot combine his duties with work as a State Duma deputy, Russian Federation Council deputy, a judge, or any other state posts. The president is also not allowed to undertake any paid work besides teaching, research, or creative work. The amendments also specify that it is illegal for the president to reject the constitutional amendments or the draft constitution if they are adopted by a republic-wide referendum. During the same parliamentary session, deputies adopted a draft law on the presidential elections in the final reading, which unlike the previous law limits the number of presidential terms to two and allows candidates to nominate themselves or be nominated by political blocs without submitting signatures from their supporters or candidature fees. The proposed term for the Tatar president will not affect Shaimiev's right to run for a fourth term in office.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Presidential Administration Introduces New Information Policy
At a press conference on the new information policy of the Bashkir presidential administration on 26 February, administration head Radii Khebirov urged the republic's journalists to "provide more space for criticism of the authorities." Khebirov said such criticism is "one of the ways to eliminate mistakes" and "raise...efficiency" of the information policy. The official said lessons learned at the December presidential race will be taken into account in setting up good relations with the press. Khebirov asserted that during the presidential campaign mass media outlets became noncompetitive and "for some reason did not manage to fulfill their tasks." He added that a "complete lack of criticism in republican newspapers and on television, as well as [there being] too many positive publications, [and this is bothersome] to the authorities." At the same time, Khebirov pointed out that criticism will be constructive," while not all people can criticize in a professional way. Khebirov also expressed his desire for opposition newspapers that were previously printed outside the republic to be printed in Bashkortostan. He said this is a "necessity that will let relations between the authorities and opposition journalists return to a 'legal space.'" The chief of staff added that relations between authorities and the press in Bashkortostan have been "too closed" and need to "become more open to some extent." He said changes in the information policy will, however, not be revolutionary.

State Agencies To Face 10 Percent Staff Reduction
During the same press conference, Khebirov said that the staff of state management offices in Bashkortostan will be reduced by 10 percent, adding that "a very big figure" is meant. Employees of the presidential administration, the government, and other state officials will be subject to the cuts. The reductions are to be finished by 5 May. There are currently about 100 employees in Bashkir's presidential administration, 200 on the government staff, and a total of some 13,000 in republican state bodies.

Commission To Be Formed On Tatar Status Issue
The head of Tatarstan's trade and economic representation in Bashkortostan, Ramil Bignov, said on 25 February that in reaction to the repeated appeals by the republic's ethnic Tatar civic leaders concerning the status of the Tatar language, Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov on 24 February charged his administration head, Khebirov, with forming a special commission to deal with the issue, reported on 26 February. Bignov was speaking at a meeting of the World Tatar Congress in Ufa.

Suspect In Killing Of Swiss Air-Traffic Controller Detained
The Swiss police announced they have arrested a man suspected of murdering Peter Nilsen, the Swiss Skyguide air-traffic controller who was on duty during the 1 July 2002 midair collision over south Germany (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 July 2002 and 25 February 2004), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 February. The police did not report the name of the suspect but said that he had lost his wife, daughter, and son in the tragedy. At a press conference on 26 February, Zurich prosecutor Pascal Goessner said the suspect has not confessed to the crime. Goessner said the crime could have been "an act of vengeance."

The daily also reported that there are two men who lost their entire families in the accident. One is reportedly currently in Ufa and the other is a resident of Vladikavkaz, architect Vitalii Kaloev.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova