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Tatar-Bashkir Report: December 19, 2002

19 December 2002
Kazan Opens Trade Mission In Ufa
Ramil Bignov, who is a deputy in the Bashkir State Assembly, deputy chairman of the World Tatar Congress in Bashkortostan, and the general director of the TNK-Univers company, has been appointed the republic's representative at Tatarstan's recently opened trade mission in Ufa, "Vremya i dengi" reported on 18 December. The trade mission was established to protect Tatarstan's economic and trade interests in Bashkortostan, to identify potential trading partners and investors to help develop the republican economy, and to provide information about Tatarstan's history, culture, and economic policy.

Moody's Boosts Tatarstan's Rating
The Moody's international rating agency has increased Tatarstan's rating from B1 to Ba3, Tatar and Russian news agencies reported on 18 December. The agency also increased the ratings of eight other Russian regions and of the Russian Federation as a whole, citing the stable political and economic situation in the regions, continuing economic growth for several years, increasing tax revenues, an increase in gold and currency reserves, and a decrease in short-term external debts as reasons for the rating increase.

Ak Bars Signs Deal For $15 Million Credit
Ak Bars Bank signed an agreement in Vienna on 16 December with a group of banks led by Austria's Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich and Raiffeisenbank Austria to provide Ak Bars with a $15 million credit for six months with a 3.9 percent interest rate, reported on 18 December, citing Finmarket. The group providing the credit also includes International Moscow Bank, Bankgesellschaft Berlin, Dresdner Bank Luxembourg, American Express Bank, Union Bank of California, and International Bank of Azerbaijan.

Justice Official Says Russia Still Seeking Extradition Of Citizens Held At Guantanamo
Yurii Kalinin from the Russian Justice Ministry said on 17 December that Russia continues to seek the extradition of eight Russian citizens being held at a U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under suspicion of having collaborated with the Taliban during U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan last year (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 5 June and 3 December 2002), NTV reported on 18 December, citing the Associated Press. Speaking at a conference on human rights in Moscow, Kalinin said that the Justice Ministry will provide a full guarantee that should the eight men be extradited, their rights will be protected and that they would not be subjected to any violence. Kalinin added that Russian officials had visited Guantanamo several days earlier to identify the men.

According to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, the only crime the men committed in Russia was illegally crossing the state border, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 18 December. The daily added that one of the prisoners, Airat Wakhitov, sent a letter to his mother in Chally a week earlier, in which he wrote that "the prison here [in Guantanamo] is better than a Russian health resort," adding that he did not want to return to Russia.

Tatar Mufti Responds To Accusations Of Wahhabism
In an interview published in "Vremya i dengi" on 18 December, Tatar Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov said that recent statements by Russian Supreme Mufti Telget Tajetdin in which he claimed that Tatarstan's Muslim leaders and Muslim educational institutions in the republic followed the teachings of Wahhabism and extremist ideology were caused by Tajetdin's "envy of the success enjoyed by his colleagues in Tatarstan in establishing a proper form of religious education" (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 12 December 2002). Iskhaqov said such an education is "the best antidote for religious 'isms' of all kinds, including Wahhabism." Iskhaqov also said that Kazan is becoming Russia's center of Muslim education and that except for the North Caucasus, which has its own traditions and Muslim educational institutions, there is no Muslim educational institution in Russia comparable to Kazan's Russian Islamic University.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Bashkir Government Urges Affirmative Action For Domestic Alcohol Producers
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov held a government meeting on 17 December to discuss ways to protect the domestic alcoholic-beverages market from imports, RosBalt reported. According to a report presented by Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Vakhitov, 470 million milliliters of alcohol were produced in the republic in the first 11 months of 2002 and 13.4 million milliliters were imported, three times more than in 2001. He also said that vodka imported from other regions of Russia deprived the republican budget of 25 million rubles ($784,700) in income by competing with domestic produce. Twelve percent of the imported vodka brands are said to be illegally produced and of poor quality, causing 285 lethal cases of poisoning this year alone.

Following this report, Baidavletov urged local administrations to assist the sales of locally produced alcohol, "if you don't want to lose financing from the [republican] budget." He mentioned that the assistance was "not about closing the republican market to alcohol imports, but about limitations.... We just want to support the domestic producers."

Presidential Envoy Favors Recent Constitutional Reform
Meeting with President Rakhimov in Ufa on 17 December, Russian presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko praised the recent constitutional reform in Bashkortostan, which "abolished all disputable issues between the republic and the federal bodies," an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day.

Wekilov Complains That He Is Being Persecuted In Bashkortostan
Supreme Court Chairman Marat Wekilov told RosBalt on 17 December that earlier this month he appealed to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office asking to "give a legal assessment of the actions of Bashkortostan's government and articles in the local press on whether they complied with Russian legislation." Earlier this year Wekilov faced multiple corruption charges by the republican law enforcement bodies, but later was cleared of the accusations (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 20 and 22 November and 3 December 2002, "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 6 December 2002). Nevertheless, local media, the parliament, and some public organizations resumed pressure on Wekilov by insisting on his guilt.

Wekilov told RosBalt that in his opinion, these developments were inspired by top republican officials because of the April 2002 resolution of Bashkir Supreme Court ruling a number of provisions in the republic's constitution illegal, because they contradicted federal laws. Wekilov also complained that republican authorities deprived him of a direct telephone connection with their Cabinet of Ministers and took the state license plate off his official car.

Tatar Youth Hold Congress
The Azatliq Tatar Youth Union held a congress outside Ufa on 18 December, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. Despite the group's image as a moderate nationalist organization, the summary report by its leader, Rostem Soleimanov, and other speeches at the event were mostly made in Russian. One of the Tatar-speaking participants, union activist Elza Shaikhollina, told the correspondent that her organization considered unemployment, alcoholism, and drug addiction to be the main challenges for modern Tatar youth in Bashkortostan. She said that Azatliq worked with the Bashkir State Board on Youth Affairs in solving the problem of unemployment and planned to create special youth squads against alcohol and drugs, which would promote a healthy lifestyle and monitor recreation centers. All of the republic's Tatar youth organizations will gather for a roundtable to discuss their problems on 19 December.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi