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Tatar-Bashkir Report: July 22, 2002

22 July 2002
Tatarstan's Leadership Concerns About Introduction Of �Oil Quality Bank'
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev told reporters on 19 July that introduction of an "oil-quality bank" could "become a serious problem" for Tatarstan, Tatar-inform reported the same day. Shaimiev held a closed-door meeting with Tatarstan's oil companies that day in Alabuga to discuss the results and prospects for development in the sector. Shaimiev said high-sulfur oil makes up 70 to 75 percent of the 1 billion tons of Tatarstan's total oil reserves. He said the republic should not increase the volume of oil production, even though it could increase it to 30 million tons a year. He also said the republic should give preference to processing oil before selling it, adding that oil-processing facilities in Bashkortostan and Ukraine's Kremenchug should be maintained. Shaimiev said, "We have weighty arguments in the dialogue with [Moscow] to defend the interests of our oil producers." He again criticized federal authorities for accumulating all easily collectable taxes in Moscow and leaving for the regions those harder to collect, saying such a policy will likely result in negative consequences.

Tatneft To Sell Controlling Interests Of Tatincom, ATZ
The investment-finance company Solid announced on 18 July a tender on selling controlling interests in Almetyevskii Trubnyi Zavod (ATZ) and the telecommunication company Tatincom-T owned by the Tatar oil company Tatneft, "Vedomosti" reported the next day. The daily cited Tatneft Deputy General Director Viktor Gorodnii as saying, "Selling common shares is a strategic task of the company." Renessans Kapital expert Vladislav Metnev commented that Tatneft is overloaded with stakes in other companies as a result of the policy of the republic's leadership forcing the oil company to maintain unprofitable companies. If the announced tender symbolizes a change in that policy, Tatneft will obtain a good impulse for efficient development, Metnev said.

Tatneft owns 83 percent of Tatincom-T and 62 percent of ATZ. The price of the deal is to be determined during negotiations with potential buyers, Solid official Aleksandr Nistratov told "Vedomosti."

Tatincom with its 98,000 subscribers is among Russia's 20 largest cellular communication operators. The company's net profit in 2001 was 3.6 million rubles. Its main competitor in Tatarstan, TAIF-Telkom, has 151,000 subscribers. ATZ produces steel and polyethylene pipes and polyethylene. The plant produced in 2001 140,000 tons of pipes and reported 28.9 million rubles in net profit.

Opposition Marks Hunger-Strike Anniversary
Some 20 members of Tatarstan's opposition parties staged on 19 July a picket in Kazan's Svobody Square to mark the third anniversary of a political hunger strike, reported the same day. Representatives of the Communist Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, and the Labor Russia, Omet (Hope), and Ittifaq movements took part. Fifteen parties and movements uniting nationalists, communists, and democrats in 1999 held a 12-day hunger strike during a session of Tatarstan's State Council discussing amendments to the law on elections of Tatarstan's people's deputies. They appealed to President Shaimiev to harmonize the law with federal legislation, specifically, to prohibit heads of executive bodies to be elected parliament deputies. However, their demands were not met.

Muslim Women Sue Interior Ministry For Violation Of Their Rights
The Kazan Vakhitov Raion Court began on 19 July hearing a lawsuit filed by three Muslim women against Tatarstan's Interior Ministry's passport-visa service to demand permission to wear headscarves in passport photographs according to Islamic requirements, and other agencies reported the same day. The claimants argued that the refusal to do this violates the principle of freedom of conscience provided by the Russian Constitution. They said women are permitted to wear headscarves in their foreign passports but prohibited from doing so for internal identity documents.

Interior Ministry representative Aleksei Nikolaev said during the trial that on 1 August 1998, the Russian Interior Ministry issued a letter permitting head covering in passport photographs "in exclusive cases," for example, for priests. But on 17 June 2002, it sent a telegram abolishing this. Nikolaev said the passport-visa service has not been accepting passport photographs with headscarves since February, implementing the verbal order of the Russian Interior Ministry. The court has not issued any ruling on whether headscarves create an obstacle to identifying a person and thus threaten state security, and decided to appeal to an expert on that issue. The next hearing of the case was slated for 2 August.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Germany Opens Judicial Investigation Into Air Crash
The city administration of the German city of Constance has opened a judicial inquiry into the role Swiss air-traffic controllers played in the 1 July mid-air collision between a Bashkir Airlines passenger jet and a DHL cargo jet resulting in the deaths of 71 people, "Stuttgarter Nachrichten" reported on 20 July.

Crews Received Conflicting Commands Prior To Collision
An examination of flight recorders aboard the Bashkir Airlines Tupolev 154 and DHL Boeing 757 that crashed above southern Germany on 1 July has shown that onboard computers told both planes to take action just 36 seconds before impact at 10,500 meters, investigators revealed on 19 July, AP and CNN reported the same day. Onboard collision-warning systems told the Tu-154 to climb and the Boeing to descend, but a Swiss air-traffic controller gave the pilot of the Russian jet a conflicting order, also telling him to descend, investigators said. The Bashkir Airlines pilot responded to the descent order 29 seconds before impact. The onboard computer continued telling the Bashkir Airlines jet to increase climb up to eight seconds before impact, AP reported. The cargo plane, which was also descending, was told simultaneously by its onboard computer to increase descent. Investigators said that flight recordings have shown that the pilots of both planes most likely saw the other aircraft moments before the crash and tried to take evasive measures, but were unsuccessful.

Minister Outlines Strategy For Repatriating Capital
Speaking at a press conference in Ufa, Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev laid out three measures for increasing the return of capital that has flown the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union and encouraging citizens to stop keeping their savings at home, reported on 19 July. First, Bukaev said that it is essential to implement a deposit-insurance program. Second, measures must be taken to increase interest rates paid on bank deposits. Third, the government must stop asking individuals "where did the money come from," Bukaev said. He also said that the state should not impose any taxes on capital coming into the country from abroad, since the most important thing is "getting that money into the economy."

Pioneering Journalist Dies In Bashkortostan.
Firat Valeev, editor in chief of one of the only opposition newspapers in Bashkortostan, "Vechernii Neftekamsk," has been found dead, VolgaInform reported on 20 July. According to the agency, some observers believe there might have been a political motive behind Valeev's death, although the agency provided no details about how Valeev died. Valeev's paper was well-known for its critical coverage of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, who tried on several occasions through legal and economic pressure to close the newspaper. Most recently, the newspaper called for mayors and the heads of raion administrations to be directly elected rather than appointed and for the republic's laws to be brought into conformity with federal legislation.

Constitutional Commission Holds Meeting
Ildar Gimaev, the head of the Bashkir presidential administration, chaired a meeting on 19 July of the working group of the republic's Constitutional Commission charged with developing the constitution's chapter on the system of state power, Bashinform reported the same day. Gimaev mentioned at the meeting that President Rakhimov said that constitutional reform should not involve a radical break with the republic's existing judicial system or a revision of its key principles, but that a new constitution should maintain all those principles, including treaty-based mechanisms. Participants said that they will take into account legal positions of the Russian Constitutional Court, rulings by the Russian Supreme Court, and the experience of subjects of the Russian Federation in establishing state and judicial systems. The members of the working group also focused on the constituent documents of a number of federation subjects, the agency reported.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova