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Tatar-Bashkir Report: January 18, 2005

18 January 2005
Elmet Pensioners Protest Monetarization Of Benefits
Some 5,000 people demonstrated on 10 January in Elmet to protest the abolition of free use of city transport for pensioners, Ekho Moskvy and Ytro reported the same day. According to the local Interior Ministry, the number of participants was over 700, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 11 January. The spontaneous and unsanctioned demonstration was supported by the city's Communist Party organization. Signs calling for restoring the benefits and reviving the Soviet Union were distributed at the meeting. Protesters also demanded that housing and municipal-services tariffs, which stopped being subsidized on 1 January, be reduced. Protesters who had been blocking traffic in the central square for some three hours broke up after negotiations with Elmet Raion administration head Rishat Abubekerov. Protesters said they will continue their demonstration on 11 January and will intentionally block traffic. Some 60 policemen watched the demonstration. Similar protests were held the same day in Khimki in Moscow Oblast and Samara.

State Holding Redistributes Presence In Oil, Petrochemical Companies
Tatarstan's state-owned Svyazinvestneftekhim (SINKh) holding signed an agreement with the TAIF group to exchange an 11.36 percent stake in Nizhnekamskneftekhim (NKNKh) for a 3.36 percent stake in Tatneft owned by TAIF, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 11 January, citing SINKh's press service. As a result, SINKh increased its stake in Tatneft to 35.86 percent and reduced its holding in NKNKh to 36.6 percent. For its part, TAIF now controls 22.76 percent of NKNKh and 2.66 percent of Tatneft. The SINKh statement commented that the contract was signed to "strengthen state influence in the petrochemical sector." TAIF representatives said that its priorities are petrochemicals and oil refining. In August, Tatneft General Director Shefeget Takhawetdinov also expressed Tatneft's intention to purchase the state's stake in NKNKh.

Elmet Pensioners Continue To Protest Reform Of Benefit System
Some 300 pensioners in Elmet on 11 January continued the protest that they had begun the previous day against the recent transformation of social benefits from in-kind to cash payments, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service and "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The protesters made good on their threat to block traffic on two downtown streets. Pensioners cleared the roads after Tatar First Deputy Prime Minister Rawil Moratov and Social Affairs Minister Klavdia Novikova arrived for negotiations. Muratov told local authorities to more actively explain the new system of benefits.

Transport Prices Reduced For Pensioners In Elmet
In the wake of protests in Elmet on 10-11 January of up to 8,000 pensioners, the Elmet city administration has reduced prices for city public transport for pensioners and the disabled from 7 rubles ($0.25) to 3 rubles, "Trud" reported on 13 January. The price will be valid in January until people are paid monetary compensations for canceled benefits. Meanwhile, the Tuben Kama administration provided several free tram and bus routes for those who receive benefits that they can use to get to hospitals.

Japanese Companies To Construct Polycarbonate Plant At Kazanorgsintez
Kazanorgsintez signed a $200 million contract with the Japanese consortium of Toyo Engineering, Idemitsu Kosan, and Asahi Chemicals to construct a polycarbonate plant, reported on 12 January. The plant's capacity is planned at 65,000 tons of polycarbonate and 70,000 tons of bisphenol-A a year. Under the contract, the facility is to be constructed by 2007 on the basis of Kazanorgsintez's existing infrastructure in Kazan. Currently, Kazanorgsintez produces polycarbonate using its own acetone, phenol, and other chemicals.

Elmet Pensioners Continue Protests
The Elmet city administration held a meeting on 13 January in reaction to protests by pensioners against the reform replacing in-kind social benefits with cash payments held earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 11 and 12 January 2005), "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 14 January. The meeting decided to establish a special fund and appealed to companies and businessmen to donate money to the fund to help supply the most needy pensioners and veterans with public-transport vouchers in Elmet Raion. In the meantime, a group from among the 280 pensioners who gathered in the downtown Elmet again blocked traffic in violation of their promise to Tatar First Deputy Prime Minister Rawil Moratov on 11 January. After Elmet deputy administration head Nikolai Glaznov and city prosecutor Refqet Kupkenov failed to persuade the protesters to cease blocking traffic, 30 policemen forced them off the road. The Interior Ministry's local press service told the daily that policemen "did not resort to violence but just held negotiations with them and pensioners who saw a lot of Interior personnel left the road themselves."

Latin Front Calls On UNESCO To Defend Tatars' Linguistic Rights
Members of the Latin Front coordination council told a press conference in Kazan on 13 January that they appealed to UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura "to take extraordinary measures to defend the linguistic rights of the Tatar people" and to recognize "the violation of the Tatar people's linguistic rights as a humanitarian issue," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau and Tatarinform reported the same day. Group leader and former State Duma Deputy Fendes Safiullin said the front was formed after no other legal possibilities remained for Tatars to defend their linguistic rights. Safiullin expressed his disagreement with the Tatar legislature's silence regarding the Russian Constitutional Court's November ruling that Russian regions cannot make decisions on scripts of their state languages on their own. The ruling invalidated Tatarstan's 1999 law on restoration of the Tatar alphabet based on the Latin script. The Latin Front, uniting 63 Tatar organizations, was established in reaction to the Constitutional Court verdict to promote the introduction of the Latin Tatar alphabet.

Pensioners Protest In Chally, Kazan
Several hundred Chally pensioners on 15 January blocked traffic in downtown Chally for four hours to demand that in-kind social benefits abolished as of 1 January be restored and Russian Health Care and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov be dismissed, Tatarinform reported the same day. According to Regnum, citing the Tatar Public Center Chally branch, the number of protesters reached 1,500. Chally administration head Ildar Khalikov met with the protesters for an hour and a half and promised to study their requests.

Some 300 pensioners gathered in Kazan on 15 January in front of the Kamal Tatar Drama Theater to hold an unsanctioned demonstration and blocked a main thoroughfare for four hours, RIA-Novosti, Interfax, Regnum, and other news agencies reported the same day. Protesters demanded the annulment of the federal law monetizing in-kind social benefits and restoration of free public transport for pensioners. There were some conflicts between protesters and taxi drivers, but traffic police directed traffic to bypass the street.

Kazan Mayor Kamil Iskhaqov told reporters after his four-hour negotiations with protesters that some 10 million rubles ($358,700) will be allocated from the city budget to pay for subsidies to needy residents in addition to 23 million rubles that have already been allocated. Iskhaqov added, however, that he cannot decide immediately on restoration of free public transport for pensioners until the issue is studied. He promised to inform Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev on the protesters' demands and said Shaimiev will pass them to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 17 January. The protests were organized by the republic's Committee for Labor Supervision and the Party of Life, RIA-Novosti reported.

Shaimiev Concerned About Spread Of Chauvinism In Russia
In an interview published in the January issue of "Natsional," President Shaimiev expressed his "indignation" with statements by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin, saying their "national-chauvinist statements are destroying Russia itself." He added that "parties making similar statements do not have and will not have supporters in multinational Tatarstan."

Shaimiev said the republic's leadership, for its part, is taking measures to prevent radical nationalism. "We do not justify Wahhabis, we fight against them," he said, warning that if such chauvinistic statements increase in Russia, they may radicalize national organizations in Tatarstan. Shaimiev also criticized the fact that the concept "nationality" was dropped from the title of the recently formed Regional Policy Ministry, "as if we are afraid to recognize we live in a multinational country...or pretended there are no nationality issues in Russia."

Commenting on the November ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court that prohibited republics from choosing their own scripts of their national languages and thus invalidated Tatarstan's decision to introduce the Latin Tatar alphabet, Shaimiev said it is political and "disputable." At the same time, Shaimiev expressed doubt that Tatarstan would immediately switch to Latin Tatar even if the court had ruled in its favor. He said that if the Tatar Latin alphabet is introduced in Tatarstan but nowhere else in Russia, this would keep away two-thirds of Russia's Tatars.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Activist Says Victims Of Blagoveshchensk Raid Shunned By Moscow Probe...
Members of a commission from the Russian Interior Ministry who arrived in Bashkortostan to investigate the 10-14 December security raid in Blagoveshchensk met on 8 January with local residents, according to Regnum, but rights activists insist efforts have been made to discourage and discredit victims of the incident.

The commission -- which is headed by the senior inspector of the Russian Interior Ministry's Organizing and Inspections Department, Major General Gennadii Blinov -- is probing events surrounding the incident, which resulted in hundreds of detentions and medical treatment for many others (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 3, 6, 7, and 10 December 2005).

The coordinator in Bashkortostan for the Russia-wide civic group For Human Rights, Vyacheslav Bikbulatov, told Regnum that authorities arranged for the meeting to be attended by state employees. However, he added that human rights activists managed to secure the participation of several victims of the December security raid. Bikbulatov alleged that efforts were being made [editor's note -- the report does not mention by whom] to pressure victims and cover up facts that point at possible abuses by security forces. Aleksei Raschesov, who was injured by a security troop in front of a number of witnesses (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 6 January 2005), was reportedly accused by Blagoveshchensk security officials of having been bribed by human rights representatives to slander them.

Bikbulatov added that members of the Moscow commission have not contacted human rights representatives. For Human Rights Executive Director Lev Ponomarev told Regnum on 10 January that he will leave for Bashkortostan on 11 January together with the Moscow Helsinki Group's Lyudmila Alekseeva.

Interior Minister Threatens Media Over Blagoveshchensk Coverage
Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev announced on 11 January that his ministry plans to file lawsuits against regional and national media outlets to defend its employees in connection with reports surrounding the controversial Blagoveshchensk raids (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 3, 6, 7, 10, and 11 January 2005). Divaev singled out "Novaya gazeta," which published an article on 10 January that hinted at brutality by security forces. Divaev accused "Novaya gazeta" of printing "allegations of grave crimes" by Bashkir security forces and said the report will be part of a civil suit or a criminal investigation of the newspaper. Divaev added that lawsuits will be filed once the federal Interior Ministry completes its probe of Bashkir security forces' activities.

"Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 12 January quoted "Novaya gazeta" Deputy Editor Sergei Sokolov saying suits or trials against newspapers, if they take place, will be useful -- as "in this case it will be difficult to conceal incidents of improper actions by security forces."

According to the Bashkir Interior Ministry's press service, the ministry has won more than 20 lawsuits against media outlets in Russian and republican courts and has been paid over 200,000 rubles in damages. Ten more lawsuits are awaiting court dates.

Bashkortostan's deputy prosecutor, Ramil Isquzhin, said a criminal case has been filed over alleged impropriety by security forces during the 10-14 December events, adding that the case involves 150 individuals, including 35 people who sustained injuries.

Reports assert that 500-1,000 Blagoveshchensk residents were detained and many were beaten by security forces following the 8 December incident in which five security troops were beaten by a crowd. Between 25 and 100 victims have appealed to law-enforcement bodies alleging violations by police.

Helsinki Group Alleges Cover-Up Over Blagoveshchensk Events, Urges Ministry's Dismissal
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva told Ekho Moskvy on 11 January that "it is absolutely obvious that the Bashkir Interior Ministry intends not to investigate this shocking incident and punish those guilty but to pervert everything and introduce as praiseworthy service [the actions] of Bashkir interior [troops]." Alekseeva said that "not only is an internal investigation not being held but, on the contrary, there are attempts to misrepresent the case as if a policeman had been beaten and preventive measures had been held strictly within the framework of the law." She added that human rights activists have faced resistance from interior bodies when trying to look into the incident in Blagiveshchensk. Alekseeva said that since the 10-14 December raids, "more than 400 people have appealed to fracture clinics to register tracks of assaults. During the New Year's holiday, Blagoveshchensk employees of law-enforcement bodies visited people's apartments to persuade them to withdraw or refrain from filing complaints against interior employees, Alekseeva said. Alekseeva called for the dismissal of Bashkir Interior Minister Divaev.

Sterletamaq Pensioners Join Protest Actions
An estimated 7,000-8,000 demonstrators marched on the streets and convened a protest in front of the municipal administration building in Bashkortostan's second city, Sterletamaq, on 11 January to voice opposition to the replacement at the federal level of in-kind social benefits -- including free use of public transport -- with cash payments, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. (Interior Ministry sources estimated the crowd at 7,000 and "Kommersant-Daily" at 8,000.) Bashkir Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Sherefetdinov said some 600 policemen were on hand to guard against violence but did not intervene, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 12 January. City administration officials, including Mayor Spartak Ekhmetov, met with protesters and promised to reduce the rates of public transport on 1 February. Meeting participants delivered an appeal to the Russian Federation, republican, and city authorities demanding the continued free use of transport for retirees. An extraordinary session of the City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue within days.

On 9 January, between 3,000 and 4,000 Ufa pensioners took part in a meeting organized by several communist parties.

Human Rights Leaders In Bashkortostan To Investigate Blagoveshchensk Incidents
The leader of the Russia-wide For Human Rights movement, Lev Ponomarev, and Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseeva arrived on 12 January to Bashkortostan to conduct their own investigation into the December security raids in Blagoveshchensk, during which some 1,000 residents were detained and many were reportedly beaten following assaults on several interior employees (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004 and 3, 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12 January 2005), RosBalt reported the same day. The rights groups are also hoping to establish contact with republican law-enforcement agencies. Ponomarev and Alekseeva met the same day with Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev and acting republican prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin. Commenting on the meeting, Ponomarev said there is a "mutual interest on the part of the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor's office in an objective investigation of the Blagoveshchensk events." Ponomarev added that a group of human rights experts will operate for a month in Blagoveshchensk to conduct an independent probe, after which another meeting with Divaev and Zelepukin will be held. Human rights leaders informed Bashkortostan's officials about purported attempts by interior employees to pressure victims of the Blagoveshchensk raid.

Ponomarev and Alekseeva traveled on to Blagoveshchensk on 12 January to meet with local witnesses and alleged victims of the December events. Ponomarev told Regnum the same day that local authorities delivered groups of employees of state budget agencies to the building in which the meeting was to take place.

Independent Journalist Alleges Serious Violations By Security Forces
In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on 12 January, Bashkir journalist and human rights activist Marat Kheirullin said his own investigation of events in Blagoveshchensk suggests that security forces committed mass torture and rape during the 10-14 December raids. Kheirullin cited his own transcript in "Novaya gazeta" on 13 January of an interview with a 19-year-old Blagoveshchensk girl who claims to have been raped. Kheirullin authored an article in "Novaya gazeta" on 10 January over which republican Interior Minister Divaev vowed to sue.

Authorities Break Up Protest In Sterletamaq
Police dispersed a protest against recently implemented reforms to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments, RosBalt reported on 12 January. When some 150 residents gathered on the square in front of the city administration building, a similar number of interior employees appeared to demand that the demonstrators leave the site. Passport data was collected from many of participants. On 10 January, more than 7,000 people demonstrated in Sterletamaq, while the previous day, a similar protest was held in Ufa (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 10 and 11 January 2005).

Pensioners To Pay 300 Rubles A Year For Use Of Public Transport
The city council in Bashkortostan's second city Sterletamaq at an extraordinary meeting on 13 January passed a measure to maintain reduced rates on city transport for pensioners, RosBalt and "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported. The move came in response to three days of protests against the Russia-wide reform from in-kind social benefits to cash payments. The vouchers to be used in the scheme will cost 300 rubles ($10.70) and be good for one year. The Sterletamaq council also urged Bashkir Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov to allocate an additional 28 million rubles to compensate for abolished in-kind benefits.

Speaking on the local BST television channel on 13 January, Bashkir Deputy Prime Minister and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Fidus Yamaltdinov said similar decisions on the distribution of vouchers for public transport for pensioners were made in Ufa and Salawat as well. Yamaltdinov said President Murtaza Rakhmonov has agreed to double monetary compensation for labor veterans and home-front workers to 200 rubles. The measure will require allocation of additional 485 million rubles.

Human Rights Activists Cite Evidence Of Security Abuses In Blagoveshchensk
Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva and For Human Rights movement leader Lev Ponomarev told a news conference in Ufa on 13 January that they have collected evidence of mass beatings of Blagoveshchensk residents by interior employees during security raids on 10-14 December, RosBalt reported the same day. "We regard events in Blagoveshchensk as extraordinary," Alekseeva said. "There has not been such a mass violation of human rights anywhere in Russia outside Chechnya." Ponomarev said the republican Prosecutor-General's Office recognizes that it will be difficult to find those personally guilty of illegality, since interior employees involved in the raid wore masks. He added that someone must take responsibility for the actions, however, and "this should be the leadership of the Bashkir Interior Ministry."

Accusations Against Police Surface In Blagoveshchensk Case
A department head at Bashkortostan's prosecutor's office, Aleksei Kasyanov, told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 15 January that two employees of the Blagoveshchensk Interior Board have been accused of misuse of power and forgery. The two refused to register numerous appeals from local hospitals who were beaten during a police raid in Blagoveshchensk on 10-14 December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December and 3, 6, 7, and 10-14 January 2005). The daily reported that the decision to conduct the raid was taken by Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev.

Human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alekseeva, who visited Bashkortostan on 13-14 January, resumed their investigation of the Blagoveshchensk raid saying some 150 local residents have asked them to report police violations. They said at least 1,000 residents were victims of police violations and 254 people went to local hospitals seeking help in December.

In a roundtable held by RFE/RL on the issue on 15 January, For Human Rights group leader Lev Ponomarev said the action was similar to those usually held in Chechnya, with the exception that nobody was killed or disappeared. "Novaya gazeta" reporter Marat Khairullin said he had evidence that police had carried out mass rapes during the raid. Bashkir Interior Ministry spokesperson Ruslan Sherefetdinov, who also took part in the roundtable, said that Khairullin's claims were "lies."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Pensioners' Protests Spread
Penza residents who were provided free public transportation prior to reforms that replaced in-kind benefits with cash payments have been given the option of choosing between in-kind benefits and monetary compensation, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 17 January. The decision came in the wake of protest actions in the city on 12 and 14 January, Regnum reported.

Numerous similar protests took place in the Volga-Ural region, including in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's Arzamas and Dzershinsk on 11 January and Nizhnii Novgorod on 14 January, and in Samara Oblast's Tolyatti on 11 January, Regnum reported. In Samara, pensioners blocked Moscow Highway on 12-14 January, Interfax-Povolzhe reported on 14 January. One placard held by a protestor read "Putin Is An Enemy Worse Than Hitler." Eight members of National-Bolshevik Party were detained in Samara during a protest on 14 January, Regnum-Volgainform reported the same day, citing the National-Bolshevik Party Samara branch press service.

Following the protests, Samara authorities extended the free use of city transport for pensioners through the end of January. A similar measure was taken by Udmurtia's leadership after some 5,000 pensioners held a protest rally in republic's capital Izhevsk on 12 January. The Yekaterinburg administration decided to maintain free transportation for pensioners throughout 2005, Regnum reported on 14 January.

Marii-El President's Inauguration Accompanied By Protest By National Movement
A meeting in Yoshkar-Ola on 15 January of the All-Marii Council headed by its chairman, Vladimir Kozlov, demanded during an inauguration ceremony of Marii-El's president-elect Leonid Markelov that a representative of the titular nation Maris head the republic, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January. According to different reports, between several dozens and 300 people staged a protest that was unsanctioned and was dispersed by policemen. Kozlov together with several activists were detained and delivered to an interior department.

The daily quoted unidentified members of Yoshkar-Ola interior bodies as saying that "the issue of opening a case on administrative violations is being considered."

Meanwhile, on 19 December, the day of the republican presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Markelov the Friendship Medal for his contribution to strengthening interethnic concord.

At the inauguration, presidential Volga Federal District envoy Sergei Kirienko presented the Marii-El president with valenki, commenting that -- valenki being footwear that does not differ between the right and left -- they perfectly suit Markelov, who is "a firm centrist." Markelov was reelected to a second term with some 57 percent of the vote.

Hunger Strikers Hospitalized In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Three participants in a hunger strike that started on 14 January at Ivdel Hydrolyze Plant in Sverdlovsk Oblast to protest the nonpayment of wages were hospitalized on 15 January, Interfax-Urals reported on 15 January, quoting hunger striker Lyubov Mostova. Three new participants joined the action, so its total number remained 68. By 13 January, plant employees were owed 13 million rubles ($465,000). On 18 January, strikers began negotiations with the plant's leadership, Radio Rossii reported the same day. The hunger strike is the fourth such action at the plant over past several months.

On 13 January, 77 participants in the previous hunger strike stopped their four-day action after they were paid three years of back wages. Eighteen supporters of the strikers were also paid their wages. Payments totaled 4 million rubles. Other hunger strikes were held at the plant on 20-24 December and on 29-31 December. All participants have been paid their back wages (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 28 December 2004 and 4 January 2005).

Yekaterinburg City Duma Deputy Accused Of Planning Bankruptcy
On 10 January, Sverdlovsk Oblast Prosecutor's Office ordered an investigation of Yekaterinburg City Duma Deputy Aleksandr Kukovyakin, former owner of Tavda Hydrolyze Plant, regarding allegations he was organizing a false bankruptcy of the company. Former plant general director Sergei Bagreev and manager Gennadii Pervukhin have been arrested on allegations that they failed to pay wages and intended to bankrupt the company. Tavda Hydrolyze plant employees held a hunger strike seeking payment of back wages.

Uzbek Citizen Killed In Nizhnii Tagil
A 28-year-old Uzbek citizen was killed and one wounded as a result of a 16 January beating perpetrated by a group of 10 men aged 17-27 in Sverdlovsk Oblast's Nizhnii Tagil, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the next day, citing the Nizhnii Tagil Interior Board press service.

Alleged Kidnappers Arrested In Ulyanovsk
Ulyanovsk law enforcement agencies on 12 January detained three people who allegedly kidnapped a 14-year-old girl and demanded a ransom of 450,000 rubles from her parents, Regnum reported on 14 January, citing an unidentified source in local interior bodies. The girl was kidnapped on 11 January. A 46-year-old businesswoman and an unemployed woman and man are among the suspects. The Zavolzhskii Raion prosecutor's office filed a criminal case on 13 January.

Former High-Ranking Udmurtia Official Charged With Accepting Bribe, Abuse Of Power
Udmurtia's Prosecutor's Office has completed its investigation of the former head of the Izhevsk City Property Board, Sergei Kozhevnikov, Kupol-Media reported on 12 January, citing republican Deputy Prosecutor Vladimir Nikeshkin. Kozhevnikov, who was arrested on 29 July, is charged with accepting a 305,000-ruble bribe and abuse of power resulting in damages of 17 million rubles. Kozhevnikov is the highest-ranking official in Udmurtia to have been charged with bribe taking.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova