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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 28, 2003

28 February 2003
Vympelkom Offices Searched By Armed Intruders...
Masked individuals carrying submachine guns searched the offices of BeeLine's Vympelkom Regions company in Kazan on 27 February, "Kommersant" reported the next day. The report said the intruders claimed to be representatives of the Tatar Interior Ministry's Department K, which is responsible for investigating crimes in the high-tech sector. The search comes in the wake of a conflict between Vympelkom and local cellular-communications provider TAIF-Telkom, which has close connections to the republic's leadership -- Radik Shaimiev, the son of Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, is an adviser to the chairman of the board at TAIF-Telkom (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 February 2003).

The manager of Vympelkom Regions, Mariya Averkieva, told the daily that the intruders searched three offices, claiming that they were searching for equipment that was not registered with the Communications Ministry. They removed three fixed-line telephones from an administrative office and all of the mobile telephones on sale in another office. Averkieva said the company's sales office closed for the rest of the day following the incident.

The Interior Ministry's Information Department told "Kommersant" that no criminal charges had been filed against Vympelkom and that ministry officials had not conducted any searches of Vympelkom's premises.

The dispute with Vympelkom arose in early February, when TAIF-Telkom blocked communications between its subscribers and those of its local competitors, arguing that direct connections between different providers in the same region are prohibited. Instead, TAIF-Telkom suggested that Vympelkom set up new intercity lines to handle such traffic. Previously, calls between subscribers of different providers were handled by Samara Interregional Transit Telecom, but Vympelkom subscribers were charged only for local calls, not long-distance calls, when calling subscribers of other providers. TAIF-Telkom accused Vympelkom of unfair competition and began blocking the calls in question.

...As MTS Plans To Purchase TAIF-Telkom For $100 Million
One of Russia's leading cellular-telephone operators, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), plans to purchase Kazan's TAIF-Telkom, "Vedomosti" reported on 28 February. The daily cited an unidentified source close to the negotiations as saying that MTS has offered $100 million to purchase 51 percent of voting shares and 50 percent of privileged shares in the company. The chairman of the board at TAIF-Telkom, Albert Shikhabetdinov, told the daily that the company had received a proposal from MTS and that it would make a decision in March or April.

MTS is the only one of Russia's top three cellular-communications providers that does not have a license to operate in the Volga region. TAIF-Telkom, Russia's fifth-largest cellular-communications provider, which until recently was the only GSM-standard operator in Tatarstan, has 310,000 subscribers in the republic.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Opposition Expresses Concern With Conduct Of Future Elections In Bashkortostan...
A group of opposition Bashkir State Assembly candidates appealed to Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, expressing "deep concern with ensuring fair and just elections in the republic" on 27 February, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. The 11 candidates representing the Rus public organization, along with the local branches of the Yabloko party and Tatar Public Center (TIU) asked Veshnyakov to monitor the course of the election campaign in the republic and ensure accurate results in the 16 March vote for parliament and municipal bodies in Bashkortostan.

The appeal also said, "Our concern is based on the known fact of flagrant falsification of vote results in Bashkortostan," suggesting that the republican government could illegally issue extra voting ballots to replace the ones cast for undesirable candidates. It also claimed that Bashkortostan's election commission and its territorial branches "had a biased attitude towards those candidates who represent organizations in opposition to local authorities or independent candidates."

Rus, Yabloko, and TIU leaders expressed personal distrust in Bashkir Central Election Commission Chairman Bariy Kinzyagulov and Bashkir TsIK Secretary Naile Altynova, asking the Russian TsIK to send observers to the election in the republic.

...And Unites In Promoting Common Candidates
Also on 27 February, Equality movement leader Aleksandr Arinin, TIU Chairman Ayrat Ginietullin, Tatar national-cultural autonomy in Bashkortostan Chairman Elfir Sakaev, and the heads of the local Yabloko and Communist Party branches, Igor Rabinovich and Valentin Nikitin, signed a resolution on the creation of a single opposition bloc for the March elections, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 28 February. The document declared that the "political parties, public organizations, and candidates for the Bashkir State Assembly faced the sad facts of gross infringements on the democratic principles and violations of laws on political parties, public organizations, and elections." Under these conditions, the groups made a "unanimous decision on the need to jointly work for fair, free, and just elections." The new bloc is currently elaborating the joint list of candidates to be promoted by opposition forces. A total of 391 candidates will reportedly contest the 120 seats in the State Assembly

First Registration Suit Won Against Election Commission
Ufa's Kirov district court on 26 February dismissed the decision of the city election commission rejecting the application of Mars Abubakirov, former head of the legal department of the Bashkir presidential administration, as candidate for the State Assembly, RosBalt reported on 27 February. The commission had claimed that the list of signatures collected in Abubakirov's support was invalid. However, despite the court's ruling, Abubakirov's representatives stated his intention to withdraw his candidacy.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi