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Tatar-Bashkir Report: February 8, 2005

8 February 2005
Public In Tatarstan Most Dissatisfied With Social-Benefits Reform
Meanwhile, Tatarstan tops the list of Russian regions most dissatisfied with the reform of social benefits, followed by Altai Krai and Bashkortostan, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 February. Samara Oblast and St. Petersburg rated fourth and fifth, respectively. In Tatarstan, a total of 15,800 people took part in demonstrations against the reforms in January, according to "Kommersant," and 28,600 as estimated by the Center for Research of Political Culture in Russia. In Bashkortostan, the figures were 13,600 and 18,600, respectively. Up to 50 pensioners hold unauthorized demonstrations in Kazan near the Kamal Tatar State Drama Theater every day to demand that in-kind benefits be maintained, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 February.

50 People Arrested For Ties To Hizb ut-Tahrir...
Tatar Interior Minister Esget Seferov told a press conference in Chally that about 50 people, both men and women, have been detained in Tatarstan as part of an investigation of the Hizb ut-Tahrir Islamist group, Regnum reported on 29 January. Weapons, explosives, and suicide-bomber belts were seized from the suspects. Seferov said that new arrests may be made of people suspected of ties to international extremist organizations.

...As Rights Representative Concerned About Repression Of Muslims
Memorial human rights center activist Vitalii Ponomarev said the decision by the Russian Supreme Court declaring 15 groups terrorist organizations and banning them in Russia "presents a serious threat to the Muslim population of Russia," reported on 31 January, citing "Russkii kurer." The decision was made by the court behind closed doors and still has not been published, according to Ponomarev. "It was lobbied by the FSB [Federal Security Service] under the pretext of fighting terrorism," Ponomarev said, concluding that based on the monitoring ongoing violations of Muslims' rights that the "special services pretend to fight terrorism and if this continues along the same lines, then it will be possible to talk about true repression."

Speaker Proposes Means Of Electing Municipal Heads
Tatar State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin told Interfax on 1 February that Tatarstan's leadership has suggested that the heads of municipalities be elected by local legislatures taking into account the opinion of regional heads. Mukhametshin said this arrangement was proposed for the transition period of two years, according to the law. Under the current law, there are two possible ways to elect heads of municipalities: direct elections or by local legislatures. Mukhametshin said that the Tatar proposal has been accepted by all 26 Russian regions where the institution of municipalities still has not been formed in full. In Tatarstan, municipalities exist only at the level of village and settlement councils but do not exist at the level of cities.

Mukhametshin added that regional parliaments should be permitted to establish the way municipal legislatures are formed and heads of municipalities elected for a transition period. "In two years set by the law, an order of the formation [of municipalities' executive bodies] will be fixed in their charters taking into account public opinion," Mukhametshin said. Mukhametshin said the initiative has found approval from State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov and Volga Federal District presidential envoy Sergei Kirienko.

Opposition Civic Groups Unite
Tatarstan's civic movement New Policy held the first meeting of its political council on 31 January, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 February. The new movement formed in Kazan on 29 January united republic's 27 political parties and movements of all orientations -- leftist, centrist, and rightist. The political council of the new association includes one representative from each party and movement. The movement's declaration on 29 January assessed the current state of the republic, saying, "a merger between Tatarstan's authorities and businesses has taken place and practically all big and valuable medium-size businesses belong to officials and people linked to them," while "extra incomes received from selling oil are spent by authorities without any supervision and are used inefficiently."

Turkey Plans To Take Part In Kazan Millennium Celebrations
Turkey's State Minister Beshir Atalai said on 2 February that contacts between Turkey and Tatarstan should be intensified as much as possible, Tatar-inform reported.

Atalai, who oversees state-run mass media and contacts with Turkic states and regions, made his comments during a meeting with a visiting delegation of heads of Tatar media outlets in Ankara. He said Turkey treats Tatarstan with special cordiality since Tatars are considered by Turks as a brotherly people. Atalai also said Turkey is ready to take maximum participation in preparations for Kazan's millennium celebration in August.

Ex-Duma Deputy Convicted Of Defaming Tatar Interior Minister
A Kazan court on 2 February convicted former State Duma Deputy Sergei Shashurin of defaming heads of Tatarstan's Interior Ministry and sentenced him to 20 months of imprisonment, Interfax-Povolzhe and reported. Shashurin was sued for televised claims he made in November 2003 and during campaign meetings alleging that Tatar Interior Minister Esget Seferov and two his deputies were involved in the kidnapping and murder of KamAZ Metallurgy Plant general director Viktor Faber (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 and 3 October 2003), the theft of gold and alcohol production, and that they had links to organized crime.

During his hearing, Shashurin repeated all allegations against Tatar Interior Minister Esget Seferov and his deputies and said the trial was "political."

In another criminal case due to be heard on 14 February, Shashurin is accused of fraud (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 19 January 2005).

Computer Software To Be Translated Into Tatar
A pilot project to translate software from Microsoft, IBM, and Alt Linux into Tatar has been launched in Tatarstan, "Izvestiya" reported on 31 January. Preliminary consent of the companies has already been obtained. If the project is successful, it will be extended to other Russian ethno-national republics. Specialists from the Laboratory on Issues of Artificial Intelligence under Tatarstan's Academy of Sciences and Kazan State University together with Microsoft's Moscow branch have prepared a Russified version of Windows 2000 supporting the Tatar language. There are plans to translate all Microsoft software into Tatar. An electronic Russian-Tatar dictionary has already been developed by Tatarstan's Institute for Issues of Computer Science and Institute of Language, Literature, and Arts. Tatarstan is also negotiating with IBM and Linux to translate into Tatar the Linux operating system and its office applications. Tatarstan's Deputy Communications Minister Ferit Fazyljanov said the Linux project will cost 3 million rubles ($107,100) while the Microsoft project will require 10 million-12 million rubles. Tatarstan's government will pay for the project.

Vneshtorgbank To Finance Construction Of Toll Road
Tatarstan's government has agreed with Vneshtorgbank (VTB) on financing the 5 billion-ruble construction of Tatarstan's first toll road, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 3 February. The project includes construction of a new 40-kilometer highway between the Shele and Sayesqan Tawy villages and the second line of the bridge over the Kama River near Sayesqan Tawy. The bridge is scheduled to be built by August while the entire project by 2007. Tatarstan's First Deputy Transport Minister Pavel Chernov told the daily that VTB will provide a 2.5 billion-ruble credit, while the remaining money is scheduled to be received in federal subsidies.

China Plans Big Investment In Tatarstan
The economic adviser to the Chinese Embassy in Russia, Fang Chungyung, told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 4 February that Chinese investment in Tatarstan will be significant and may exceed $1 billion. Fang was making his first visit to Tatarstan to study investment possibilities in the republic. During his four-day tour, Fang visited Nizhnekamskneftekhim, KamAZ, the Tuben Kama tire plant, the Kazan helicopter plant, and the Kazan Gorbunov aviation plant, among other companies.

Following his meeting with Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov on 4 February, Fang said he was impressed with the investment climate in Tatarstan. Prospects for investment in small and medium-sized businesses were discussed during talks with Nizhnekanskneftekhim management. They agreed to continue negotiations in the coming months.

Turkey, Tatarstan Plan Joint Pipe-Production Project
Tatarstan and Turkey are planning to set up a joint venture that will produce polyethylene pipes, reported on 4 February, citing the press service of the Tatar Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Ministry. The project was discussed at a meeting between Tatar Trade and Foreign Economic Cooperation Minister Khefiz Salikhov and Turkey's Design Holding Board chairman Vedat Mirmakhmutogullar on 3 February. The plan is to produce pipes using the latest technology.

Mirmakhmutogullar said his firm is ready to invest between $5 million and $50 million in the project and that Turkey is looking for reliable partners in Tatarstan.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Rakhimov Says Oil Refineries Will Pay Debts
President Murtaza Rakhimov told a press conference on 27 January in Ufa that Bashkortostan's oil refineries must abide by a recent ruling by the Supreme Arbitration Court Presidium that they must pay back taxes related to their operations in Baikonur (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 January 2004), "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 29 January.

Rakhimov expressed his hope that "if everything is done in accordance with law," then roughly half of 12 billion rubles in debts will be transferred to Bashkortostan's budget. Rakhimov added that "for the republic's authorities, the court verdict was not unexpected," adding that they will weather the storm and the "plants will repay their debts."

The daily reported that an additional criminal case has been opened to determine if the Russian Tax Ministry's Bashkortostan Board illegally allowed refineries to restructure 1.5 billion rubles in debt when the board was headed by Reshit Sattarov.

Russian Ombudsman Calls For Criminal Persecution Against People Responsible For Blagoveshchensk Raid...
Russian Human Rights representative Vladimir Lukin has received a response from the Blagoveshchensk administration and the Bashkir Interior Ministry regarding his request for an investigation into possible human rights violations that took place during raids conducted by ministry personnel in Blagoveshchensk in December, Regnum reported on 28 January (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 and 30 December 2004, 3, 6, 7, 10-14, 17-21, and 24 January 2005).

Bashkir officials said the decision by the Bashkir Interior Ministry to hold special preventive measures in Blagoveshchensk was made in contradiction to legislation. Other violations included mass detentions of residents, and the taking of photos and fingerprints. Those violations are to be qualified as exceeding power, according to the authors of the report.

...As Prosecutors Identify 50 Victims Of Raid
Over 50 people have been officially classified by the prosecutor's office as victims stemming from the December interior raid in Blagoveshchensk, Igor Kalyapin, chairman of Nizhnii Novgorod's Committee Against Torture, told Regnum on 28 January. Kalyapin said his organization provided lawyers to five victims who appealed against violations allegedly perpetrated by interior employees. Since all victims are similar claims, those five could decide the entire case, Kalyapin said.

PACE Concerned About Human Rights Violations In Bashkortostan
The Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) released a statement on 28 January in Strasbourg in which it expressed concern about violations of human rights in some regions of Russia, PRIMA-News reported on 31 January. Citing the tide of violence in Bashkortostan, the statement noted the spread of what it called an "atmosphere of impunity" from the Chechen Republic to other regions of the Russian Federation and called for an investigation.

Prosecutors Accuse Interior Officials of Abuse of Power
The head of the Bashkir Prosecutor's Office, Aleksei Kasyanov, told Interfax-Povolzhe on 31 January that accusations of abuse of power have been leveled against two district officers of the Blagoveshchensk Interior Board. Kasyanov said the prosecutor's office has appealed for a warrant to arrest the suspects but that a raion court rejected the appeal. Summons were also issued against the head of the Blagoveshchensk Interior Ministry department, Ildar Ramazanov, for negligence, as well as two employees of the Blagoveshchensk criminal investigation department and a district law-enforcement officer for abuse of power. They did not appear as requested at the prosecutor's office for questioning, so they are now wanted, Kasyanov said. Bashkir Interior Minister Rafael Divaev told the news agency that all Interior Ministry employees who received summonses could not appear as requested due to either "technical complexities" or health reasons and will do so later. "None of them has escaped and none is going to escape," Divaev said.

New Street Actions In Ufa...
Two protests were staged in Ufa on 1 February against benefit reforms and growing tariffs on housing and municipal services, Interfax-Povolzhe reported. The actions involved roughly 600 people.

Participants in one of the protests, organized by the Motherland faction in Bashkortostan and held in Soviet Square, demanded that a moratorium on the monetization law be introduced; that Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin be dismissed; that a quarterly indexation of pensions, subsidies and wages for state budget employees be introduced; and that the raising of tariffs on housing and municipal services without indexation of pensions and subsidies be abolished.

The second protest, organized by the regional department of the Communist Party in front of the Ufa City Council building, called for the dismissal of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov for a number of "violations," including "sabotage of the law on local self-government." Participants also demanded that the Bashkir Central Election Commission (USK) hold referendums on direct elections of heads of city, town and raion administrations. "We are warning the USK and the republic's executive authority bodies about criminal responsibility for illegal actions while holding referendums and counting votes," a statement from the protesters said. It noted that if demands are not met within a month, a permanent republic-wide protest meeting will be launched on 26 February. Similar demands were put forward at a meeting in Ufa on 22 January that attracted 5,000 people.

...As Prosecutor Says Meeting Organizers Persecuted For Political Demands
Bashkortostan's acting Prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin told Interfax-Povolzhe on 1 February that the Prosecutor's Office has evidence that some protest organizers had not notified authorities ahead of time, an administrative violation. Zelepukin said cases have been initiated against three protest organizers, including one KPRF member in Sterletamaq and two people in Ufa's Kirov Raion.

Bashkir President Meets With Human Rights Official
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov met on 2 February with visiting head of the Presidential Council for Promotion of Development of Civic Society Institutes and Human Rights, Ella Pamfilova, Bashinform reported the same day, citing the Bashkir presidential press service.

Commenting on recent events in Blagoveshchensk, after which hundreds of detained people complained of torture and violence committed by Interior Ministry employees, Rakhimov said, "Of course, excesses occur sometimes in the work of law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, there are no ideal bodies in our state." But he said loud protests against almost every incident connected to Bashkir Interior Ministry bodies may be linked to groups who would like to see someone friendly to their causes in the post of Bashkir interior minister.

Pamfilova said violations of human rights by Interior Ministry employees take place regularly in all of Russia's regions and that resolution of the problem is integral for Russia's development.

Pamfilova is also scheduled to meet with Bashkortostan's acting Prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin and to visit Blagiveshchensk to check on the investigation of December's events.

Pamfilova had told Interfax-Povolzhe on the eve of her visit to Bashkortostan that a "preliminary conclusion can be already made on the grounds of information collected about the events in Blagoveshchensk about the scandalous violations of the rights of Blagoveshchensk residents and the unprecedented arbitrariness of employees of the local administration and law enforcement bodies."

Bashkir Parliament Drops References To Sovereignty From Legal Acts
The Bashkir State Assembly at its 27 January session passed an amendment to annul the Declaration on State Sovereignty, reported on 3 February. Specifically, the parliament annulled an October 1990 resolution on measures on the implementation of the Declaration on State Sovereignty. The provision saying it "has the power of a law" has been dropped from the text of the declaration itself.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Explosion Kills Two In Chavashia
An explosion caused by a homemade explosive device killed two people and injured another in the Chavash capital Cheboksary on 1 February, Regnum reported on 2 February. The news agency added that a survivor alleged that the victims of the blast, which occurred in a cafe, were the 30-year-old builder of the device and two suspected accomplices. Another explosive device and a container filled with an explosive mixture were found near the site of the explosion -- reportedly equipped with a mobile telephone to activate the mechanism.

Court Acquits Elderly Protesters
A raion court in Cheboksary on 2 February acquitted of wrongdoing four pensioners -- Yurii Trofimov, Anatolii Rozov, Yurii Paulin, and German Ukhin -- who were detained during a Communist-led demonstration against the reform of in-kind social benefits into cash payments on 22 January, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 3 February. More than 1,000 protesters had stopped traffic on Lenin Avenue in the capital during the action. Defendants and witnesses testified that the demonstrators did not intend to halt traffic but were forced into the street by security forces who cordoned off the planned site of the protest.

Marii El President Wins Defamation Suit Against Rival
A Yoshkar-Ola city court ruled that former rival candidate Aleksandr Korotkov defamed Marii El President Leonid Markelov when he accused Markelov of embezzlement, "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 2 February. The court ordered Korotkov to pay 10,000 rubles ($356) in compensation to Markelov and withdraw his allegations. Speaking on local radio on 30 November, Korotkov claimed that the "Marii president grossly violated the law and embezzled more than 1 million rubles," suggesting that Markelov purchased apartments at taxpayer expense.

Opposition Paper's Editor Assaulted In Marii El Capital
The chairman of the All-Marii Council and editor in chief of the Finno-Ugric newspaper "Kudo+Kodu," Vladimir Kozlov, was apparently assaulted on 4 February in the Marii El capital Yoshkar-Ola, Regnum and "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" reported on 4 and 5 February, respectively. Three unknown assailants reportedly attacked Kozlov as he was walking to his office. Kozlov was not robbed in the incident, and was hospitalized with head injuries.

Kozlov claimed to "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" that the attack must have been related to his professional activities and might be arranged by people close to Marii El President Leonid Markelov. Marii El presidential-administration head Dmitrii Frolov called Kozlov's suggestion "foolish" and "excessive self-appraisal." The acting head of the Yoshkar-Ola Interior Board, Aleksandr Burdo, said on 4 February that criminal cases has not been filed in the incident, which is under investigation.

"Kudo+Kodu" is a Mari national newspaper published with the support of George Soros's Open Society Institute and distributed in Russia, the Baltics, and Finland.

On 7 January, Radio Liberty correspondent in Marii El Yelena Rogacheva was beaten in Yoshkar-Ola. In late 2004, the editor in chief of the local "Vo!" newspaper, Mark Aron, was assaulted.

Hunger Strike Targets Social-Benefits Reform In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Roughly 25 members of the Tolyatti city organization of disabled participants in the clean-up effort at the Chornobyl Nuclear Station held a hunger strike on 4 February to protest federally led social-benefits reform, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the same day. Organization Chairman Nikolai Petrukhin suggested to the news agency that the actual number of hunger strikers was several times higher, since he said many people are protesting at their homes as they cannot get to the headquarters due to poor health. Petrukhin said another aim of the action is to speed up payment of subsidies for the disabled and widows of those who died as a result of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Petrukhin said a larger protest action will be initiated that includes other groups that lost their benefits might loom if authorities ignore the issues that prompted the 4 February hunger strike.

Putin Backs Incumbent For Tyumen Oblast Gubernatorial Post
Russian President Vladimir Putin has introduced to the Tyumen Oblast Duma the candidacy of incumbent Sergei Sobyanin for the post of oblast governor, reported on 4 February. Putin reportedly sent a letter to Tyumen Oblast Duma Speaker Sergei Korepanov. The Tyumen Oblast Duma will hear the issue on 17 February and will pass a decision in an open vote. Sobyanin had presented to the Russian president his appeal on stepping down ahead of the schedule.

Unified Russia, Others Rally To Show Backing For Benefits Reform
Some 300 people demonstrated in Ulyanovsk on 4 February to show their support for the federal law replacing in-kind social benefits with cash payments in a rally organized by Unified Russia in Ulyanovsk Oblast, Interfax-Povolzhe reported the same day. Representatives of 62 other organizations, parties, and movements, including the Ulyanovsk Oblast Committee of the Red Cross, the regional branch of the Russia-wide Society of the Deaf, and veterans and disabled persons' groups joined the event, held under the slogan of "Yes for Real Care of People." Oblast Governor Sergei Morozov, who appeared at the rally, said that while the legislation is generally a step forward, it should have been tested in select regions before being introduced across Russia. Participants voiced support for a resolution encouraging the amendment of the law to remove shortcomings and supporting President Putin's current course.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova