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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 5, 2003

5 December 2003
Tatar President Says Return of Kazan Relic Could Help Resolve Differences Between Orthodox, Catholic Churches
President Mintimer Shaimiev told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 4 December that it would be remarkable if the Roman Catholic pope could officially visit Russia with the permission of Russian Orthodox patriarch and to help sort out differences between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Prior to his trip to Mongolia this summer, Pope John Paul II expressed his desire to return to Russia the disputed Kazan Holy Mother of God icon that is currently possessed by the Vatican. Researchers from Russia's Culture Ministry and the Orthodox Church maintain that this icon is merely a copy of the original icon that was stolen from Kazan in 1904. However, Shaimiev said the return of the icon, regardless of whether it is a copy, would be of great value to believers because it provides an opportunity to improve relations among Christians and of Christians with Muslims and Jews. Regarding statements made by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II saying that the icon affair is to be dealt with exclusively by the Orthodox Church, Shaimiev expressed respect for that church's activities. He said Kazan has a very rich history and that the Kazan Holy Mother of God icon occupies a special place in that history. He said that believers in Tatarstan have priority on such issues and said that, as a Muslim, he understands the importance of seeing the relic returned, adding that all have the same faiths, only the religions are different.

Play On Words In Kazan's Mayors Speech Hints At Unified Russia
In a special televised address to the residents of Kazan, dedicated to the importance of the 7 December Russian State Duma election, Mayor Kamil Iskhakov said on 4 December that he has no right to ask Kazan citizens to support any political party, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day. However, the mayor said it would be to the city's benefit if its citizens supported only one political party, one that has power to ensure further improvements to their lives. During his speech, Iskhakov placed special emphasis on the word �eunited, an apparent allusion to the Unified Russia party.

Tatar Health Ministry Says Its Has Anthrax Under Control
Tatarstan's Health Ministry has identified all individuals who have been exposed to anthrax-infected beef and placed them under strict medical surveillance, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 4 December. Thus far, only one of those quarantined has tested positive for anthrax. All infected meat has reportedly been seized and destroyed, and the farm from which the infected bovine came was disinfected. The bovine is believed to have contracted the disease from one of the unregistered burial sites of cattle destroyed during anthrax epidemics in the Yudino, Dervishler, and Kulseyet areas near Kazan dating back to 1936, 1937, and 1954 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 December 2003).

Small Oil Companies Plan 5 Percent Production Hike
Fenis Weliev, general director of the Neftekonsortsium Ltd. company that unites most of Tatarstan's small oil companies, told Intertat on 4 December that in 2004 the minor oil producers plan to increase output by 5.1 percent compared to 2003, bringing annual extraction to 4.62 million tons. Some 28.7 million tons of oil were produced in Tatarstan in 2002, most by Tatneft and 14.4 percent combined by smaller companies. In 2003, the smaller companies are expected to contribute some $50 million in taxes to the republican budget, which totals approximately $1.4 billion.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Opposition Accuses Presidential Administration Head Of Ordering Illegal Printing Of Ballots�
The Bashkir Prosecutor's Office launched on 4 December a criminal investigation into the fake presidential election ballots found in an Ufa printing house controlled by the Bashkir presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 December 2003), Russian and Bashkir news agencies reported. Opposition presidential candidate Sergei Veremeenko told RFE/RL on 4 December that the ballots were printed by order of the head of the presidential administration, Radii Khebirov. At a joint press conference on 4 December in Ufa, presidential candidates Relif Safin and Veremeenko said that following the incident, the Bashkir president must resign. They said, "having committed such a serious falsification, he has discredited the Russian president and Unified Russia." They also said additional measures to safeguard the real ballots will be introduced and warned that additional fake ballots could be in circulation.

Bashkir First Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Korostylev concurred with Veremeenko and told Interfax on 4 December that the illegal print-run was ordered by Khebirov. However, Bashkir Prosecutor Florid Baikov denied Korostylev's statement, saying it was "premature." Baikov said Korostylev "had no right to make such statements...when the investigation is at the very beginning." "Vedomosti" quoted on 5 December an unidentified source close to the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that the FSB had prior information to suggest that some 600,000 fake ballots had been printed.

...As Rakhimov's Supporters Claim Opposition Behind Fake Ballots
"Vremya novostei" on 5 December quoted an unidentified source in the Bashkir presidential administration as saying that the ballots affair was a provocation initiated by the opposition in order to destabilize the situation and annul the future election results. "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 December quoted Bashkortostan's state media as speculating that the fake ballots might have been planted by the opposition because Safin and Veremeenko had repeatedly said that 800,000 illegal ballots would be used in the elections. The daily quoted an unidentified source in Rakhimov's electoral staff as saying that "the president, who has so much political experience, is not foolish enough to print fake ballots in his own printing house."

TsIK Head Reacts To Ballots Scandal
Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Interfax on 4 December that the TsIK hopes the Bashkir Prosecutor's Office will "actively and thoroughly" investigate the circumstances surrounded the fake electoral ballots. Veshnyakov said, "this is a scandalous attempt to manipulate electoral votes." Veshnyakov also said that, "in case preliminary information about the shady enterprise that may be linked to state officials is confirmed, all persons guilty are to be punished in a most rigid manner." He added that, "after a new system of monitoring appeared, it is quite easy to reveal facts of that sort." He said that the TsIK proposes that the Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) takes extra measures to ensure the security of the real electoral ballots.

Authorities Call On Voters To Be Vigilant Against Acts Of Terrorism
In their joint appeal to the republic's voters on 4 December, Federal Security Service (FSB) Bashkir Directorate head Igor Chernokov and Bashkir Interior Minister Rafael Divaev called for special vigilance during the election campaign, RosBalt reported the same day. The officials said, "Attempts by destructive forces to ruin the democratic process of elections should not be underestimated." They said it was possible that the escalating struggle for power in Bashkortostan could increase the threat of terrorist acts. Recently, the Russian FSB and Interior Ministry sent forces to Bashkortostan in reaction to appeals by the republic's opposition warning of possible terrorist acts in the republic during the campaign (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 December 2003).

Fund For Free Elections Calls On Putin, Veshnyakov To Personally Supervise Bashkir Elections
The Civic Council of the Fund for Free Elections in Bashkortostan publicly appealed on 4 December to President Vladimir Putin, Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, and the observer council on monitoring implementation of the Vybory-2003 agreement, concerning the incident in Ufa where ballots illegally printed for the Bashkir presidential elections were found, reported the same day. The council said the ballots are identical to those officially printed for the elections and include all the required protective features. They called on the Russian officials to personally supervise the Bashkir elections.

Bashkir Tax Directorate Head Resigns
Russian Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev on 4 December accepted the resignation of the head of the ministry's Bashkir Directorate, Aleksandr Veremeenko, Prime-TASS reported the same day, citing the ministry's press department. Veremeenko's appointment as the directorate head in June is considered to have been the result of lobbying by his brother, Bashkir presidential candidate Sergei Veremeenko (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 30 June 2003). Aleksandr Veremeenko has headed the directorate since his dismissal from the post of Bashtransgaz general director for opposing an agreement between Gazprom and Bashkortostan that was reportedly requested by President Murtaza Rakhimov (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 and 20 June 2003). "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 December quoted Aleksandr Veremeenko as saying that "the extremely acrimonious election situation in Bashkortostan" is behind his resignation.

Court Unblocks Shares Of Bashkir Petrochemical Companies
A Kotovsk city court in Tambov Oblast abolished its decision of the week before canceling the results of the privatization of the Bashkir oil-refining complex and freezing shares of companies united in the Bashkirskii Kapital company (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 26 November 2003), "Vedomosti" reported on 3 December. The court halted the case and unblocked the Bashkirskii Kapital shares.

Bashkirskii Kapital was established in June as a result of privatization of Bashneft, Bashkirnefteprodukt, and four Bashkir oil refineries. An audit of the privatization by the Russian Audit Chamber revealed severe violations that deprived the state of $118 million (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 23 July 2003).

The Kotovsk court had been hearing a lawsuit by Petr Komarov, a shareholder of the privatized companies, who demanded that Bashkirskii Kapital return shares to the companies. "Vedomosti" cited an unidentified source in the Kotovsk court as saying that the decision was canceled because the Moscow Dorogomilovskii Raion Interior Ministry department had asked the court to halt the case and send all the documents to the department, which was investigating a fraud case involving the shares of an Ufa oil refinery. The source said the documents on the case have been sent to the department. However, department investigators told "Vedomosti" that there is no investigation related to the Ufa petrochemical companies.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova