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Tatar-Bashkir Report: March 6, 2003

6 March 2003
Supreme Court Turns Down Appeal In Headscarf Case
The Russian Supreme Court on 5 March turned down an appeal by 10 Muslim women from Tatarstan in their attempt to be granted the right to wear traditional headscarves in their passport photographs (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 March 2003), RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 6 March. The women's lawyer, Ferit Zahidullin, said in a telephone interview from Moscow with Kazan's Efir television on 5 March that the court "did not reconsider the case [but] simply repeated what had already been said [in the previous rulings by lower courts]."

Throughout the legal process, the plaintiffs have claimed that the Russian Interior Ministry's regulations that forbid individuals from covering their heads in their passport photographs violate the constitutional right to religious freedom. Prosecutors, meanwhile, have countered this by saying that Russia is a secular state, where religious norms have no legal force.

Zahidullin told reporters after the Supreme Court session that a group of Tatar women had already filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Average Income Up 7.5 Percent
Tatarstan's State Statistics Committee announced on 5 March that average montly income in the republic reached 3,041 rubles ($96) in January, an increase of 25.8 percent in comparision with January 2002, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. When inflation is taken into account, however, real income increased by only 7.5 percent over this period.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkir Legislature Extends Rakhimov's Term Till December...
The Bashkir State Assembly's Legislative Chamber on 5 March unanimously passed a draft law to extend the term of President Murtaza Rakhimov until December, "Kommersant" reported on 6 March. The deputy chairman of the Legislative Chamber's Legislation, State System, and Legal Issues Committee, Fenil Taepov, who presented the draft at the session, said it is permitted to extend the terms of federation heads for not more than a year in order to hold elections simultaneously with federal elections. Taepov said holding elections on the same day will significantly reduce expenses. In addition, he said, postponement of the Bashkir presidential elections will help provide stability in the completion of the reform of the state system and local self-government. The Legislative Chamber slated the presidential elections for 14 December, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 5 March. The draft is scheduled tocome up for vote in the Bashkir parliament's Chamber of Representatives on 6 March and then by a joint session of the two chambers. Rakhimov's second term expires in June 2003. He has still not announced whether he will run for another term.

...As Newspaper Names Rakhimov's Possible Rivals
Commenting on the parliamentary election campaign in Bashkortostan, the "Argumenty i fakty" weekly wrote on 5 March that two groups are competing in the republic: the local "party of power" supported by the local branch of Unified Russia, and Russian business giants like Mezhprombank, Gazprom, LUKoil, and Transneft backed by the republic's Communists and Russian nationalists. The elections will be decisive in deciding the fate of the republic's industrial complex, which is still state-owned. The Bashkir leadership has begun privatization of the republic's unique oil- and gas-processing facilities, but is afraid that oligarchs will take them over, the paper commented.

The weekly goes on to list possible rivals to Rakhimov in the presidential campaign. Engels Qolmokhemmetov, the chief federal inspector in Bashkortostan and former Bashkir deputy prime minister, used to be Rakhimov's successor but fell out with the president, the paper writes. Federal Security Service (FSB) Major General Emir Nigemetjanov, Bashkir deputy prime minister in charge of law-enforcement bodies, may repeat the Ingush experience when an FSB general took over the region, according to the paper. Aleksandr Arinin, a leader of Bashkortostan's ethnic Russian movement, and Marat Mirgazyamov, former prime minister, conclude the list.

However, Rakhimov may find support from other oligarchic groups, in particular, from Alfa-group, Yukos, or Interros, since their leaders are not interested in strengthening their competitors. The Kremlin may also give preference to stability in that semi-Muslim republic before economic advantages and support Rakhimov, the weekly added.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova