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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 15, 2004

15 June 2004
Tatarstan Industries Make Progress In Paying Off Back Wages
More than 36,000 Tatarstan residents are currently owed some 120.8 million rubles ($4.1 million) in back wages, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today, citing the governmental commission that oversees the timely payment of wages. However, only one-third of debtor enterprises were reported to have outstanding wage arrears of more than two months. After checking statistics on the average wages paid in the republic's most economically disadvantaged areas, the commission agreed to establish measures to ensure that average monthly wages there exceed 2,500 rubles ($86) per capita. The governmental body chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Rawyl Moratov also ruled on 8 June that those ventures that fail to pay wages to their employees for more than two months must undergo bankruptcy procedures.

Minister Says New Social Security System To Boost Welfare Benefits
Social Security Minister Klavdiya Novikova said on 8 June that current welfare reforms that would replace the current system in which impoverished citizens receive discounts on goods with one in which they would receive financial compensations "will give extra benefits to the population, especially in the rural areas," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. She said it is still unclear which compensations would be paid from the Russian budget and which would come from the republican budget, but that the Social Security Ministry has already set up a database of welfare recipients.

Tatar Parliamentary Speaker Criticizes Draft Social Security Reform
Tatarstan State Council Chairman and senior Unified Russia member Farid Mukhametshin told reporters on 9 June that the party's board decided to support a government-proposed draft reforms on 7 June aimed at replacing the existing system of social benefits for the poor with monetary compensations, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. Mukhametshin cited the draft reform as seeking to correct a situation in which some citizens do not use their social-security benefits in full. However, he noted that those for whom the reform is designed can choose whether to have their current social benefits maintained or replaced by such financial compensation. Mukhametshin also expressed discontent over Moscow's signal that it will leave regional governments only those powers that can be financed from local budgets. He also said he is bewildered that the reforms would entail a 3.5 percent increase of regional transfers to the federal budget, while the majority of the poorer segment of the population would be financed from regional budgets.

Russian Audit Chamber Head Praises Establishment Of Tatar Audit Body
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev on 7 June signed a republican bill on the Tatarstan Audit Chamber passed by the parliament the previous week, Tatar and Russian media reported. The signing ceremony was attended by visiting Russian Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin and State Council deputies who gathered to meet with him. Speaking at the meeting, Stepashin said the Audit Chamber will be the most advanced among all of the federation's chambers, as the legislation that establishes it meets all standards of international independent financial-supervision bodies. He added that the audit chambers of all of Russia's other regions as well as the federal Audit Chamber he himself heads may envy the Tatar body. Stepashin speculated that unlike the Russian Audit Chamber, which, on one side, probes the Russian Finance Ministry but on the other side is financed by the same ministry, the Tatar chamber's budget will be determined only by the Tatar parliament. The second positive point is the Tatar president's participation in the formation of the chamber, something that optimizes operation of the body, Stepashin said. Stepashin's proposal "to work together" on preparations for the Kazan millennium received a warm response from President Shaimiev. Stepashin cited reports according to which not all money allocated by the federal government for the Kazan jubilee reach Tatarstan. Russian Audit Chamber experts are currently working in Kazan to investigate relations between the federal budget and budgets of other levels.

Turkish Court Annuls Results Of Oil-Refinery Tender
The Ankara Supreme Court on 3 June annulled the results of a 13 January tender on the sale of some 66 percent of Turkey's leading oil refinery Tupras to the alliance between Tatneft's German affiliate Efremov Kautchuk GmbH and the Turkish Zorlu financial/industrial group, "Kommersant-Daily" and other news agencies reported on 4 June. The court thus satisfied a lawsuit by the Petroleum Workers Union opposing the tender on the grounds that it violated competition legislation and also that the $1.3 billion winning bid was undervalued. Trade Union leader Mustafa Oztashkyn on 3 June told Turkish NTV that "no sale will take place until the Turkish government appeals to the country's parliament to approve the deal."

On 25 May, the Ankara municipal court satisfied a lawsuit by trade unions and froze the selling of Tupras shares. The decision was appealed by the Turkish Supreme Privatization Committee.

"Kommersant-Daily" cited an unnamed source in the Tatar government as saying that everything in this situation depends on retaliatory activities by the Turkish side. "Turkish Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan publicly promised [on 3 June] that he will activate other mechanisms to complete the deal." However, the source added that the move was a reaction to the number of opponents.

Tatneft was seeking to obtain its own oil refinery through the purchase of Tupras, as the company, Russia's sixth-largest oil producer, does not have its own facility. Meanwhile, the possible purchase of Tupras was not backed by President Mintimer Shaimiev, who told a Cabinet of Ministers meeting in February that oil refining should be developed within the republic rather than outside it.

Tatneft Disappointed Over Tupras Deal Freeze
The Tatneft oil company expressed its disappointment in the 3 June ruling of Turkey's Supreme Court annulling the results of the 13 January tender on the sale of some 66 percent of Turkey's leading oil refinery Tupras to the alliance between Tatneft's German affiliate Efremov Kautchuk and the Turkish Zorlu financial/industrial group, Tatar media reported on 11 June, citing the company's press service. In a statement, Tatneft insisted that the price offered by the alliance fully corresponded to Turkish law and the deal was transparent to the public. The company also announced that it has consulted with Societe Generale Corporate and Investment Banking and Purvin & Gertz for developing Tupras's plan of investment-based development. Tatneft also pledged to defend the interests of Tupras employees and minority shareholders and ensure stable oil supplies to refineries if the deal is finally cleared.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Bashkortostan The Most Populous Ethnic Republic In Russia
Results of the 2002 census cited by State Statistics Committee on 7 June show that the Republic of Bashkortostan is the most populous ethnic republic in Russia with 4.1 million residents, while the Altai Republic is said to be the least populous with 203,000 residents. Since the 1989 census, Bashkortostan's population of residents has grown by 161,200, or 4.1 percent, due to strong migration flows to the republic from the east and a natural increase of population. During that period, the urban population reportedly increased by 110,000 while the rural population grew by 51,200. Bashkortostan represents 2.8 percent of Russia's total population and 13.2 percent of the Volga Federal District's population.

Prime Minister Cites Economic Growth
Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov told a Bashkir government session on 7 June that the republic's economy showed positive trends in the form of an increase in industrial output and a rise in per capita income of 6.8 percent to $167 per month in the first five months of 2004, Bashinform reported on 7 June. The average monthly salary in Bashkortostan is currently estimated at $185 per person. Meanwhile, consumer prices have grown by 7.6 percent in 2004.

Forged-Ballot Case Goes To Court
Bashkortostan's chief prosecutor has sent the case of the illegal printing of ballot forms prior to the December 2003 republican presidential elections to court, RosBalt reported on 8 June, citing an unnamed source in the prosecutor's office (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 4 and 5 December 2003). Although the printing house is owned by the Bashkir presidential staff, charges of attempting to falsify ballot forms were only brought against Marat Weliev, the director of the printing house. Bashkortostan's deputy prosecutor told reporters after studying the case that the extra ballot forms were ordered by presidential-administration head Radii Khebirov. After the election, which was won by President Murtaza Rakhimov, then-deputy prosecutor Vladimir Korostylev was transferred to the same position in Ulyanovsk Oblast, while chief prosecutor Florid Baikov retired.

Prosecutor Wants Stricter Measures Against Misbehaving Policemen...
Acting prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin told an 8 June meeting of Bashkortostan's law-enforcement agencies that those policemen who conceal evidence of crimes should have "special measures" applied to them, RosBalt reported the same day. He claimed that withholding evidence of crimes was "the major problem of the entire Russian law-enforcement system." Zelepukin said the system should unite its efforts to ensure the objective registration of crime statistics and use "more radical measures" to improve discipline among officers. He stressed that from the beginning of 2003, his office has uncovered 738 crimes that were not registered by Interior Ministry officers.

...And His Own Subordinates
Zelepukin told the same meeting that in the last two months, seven of the 72 prosecutors in Bashkortostan's cities and regions were dismissed for not complying with the provisions of the Prosecutor-General's Office. He said that that number could grow in the next few days, which would "not indicate a staff revolution, but the correct organization of work."

Ufa Raion Court Says Arbitration Judge's Office Was Sealed Illegally
The Kirov raion court of Ufa ruled on 9 June that Bashkortostan's Supreme Court decision to authorize sealing Arbitration Court Chairman Fenil Safin's office on 14 May was illegal, Rosbalt reported. The office was reportedly sealed by the officers of Russian Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service with the consent of Bashkir Supreme Court. Acting chief prosecutor Mikhail Zelepukin told reporters on 9 June that his subordinates have some questions for the Supreme Court judge who issued the ruling on sealing Safin's office.

Bashkir Government Resolves Hunger Strike At Entertainment Center
After a statement by President Murtaza Rakhimov that he is following the situation of the Ogni Ufy (Ufa's Lights) entertainment center, the opening of which was denied by Ufa city officials, on 10 June a special state commission agreed to make a final decision on the center, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported today. Staff at the Ogni Ufy had declared a hunger strike to protest the refusal of city officials to approve the building for commercial use. The employees alleged that the approval was rejected because of the center's major investor, Mezhprombank, which was formerly managed by Sergei Veremeenko, who ran against Rakhimov in the December presidential election. In a 9 June statement, President Rakhimov said he will take stern action against any officials found guilty of persecuting the company for political reasons. However, he noted that "from time to time, he had the impression that the center was constructed in a way [that would] ensure it is not certified for service." In Rakhimov's words, after he won the election he demanded that republican officials "take care of what has to be corrected in the everyday life of the republic and avoid persecuting" those who supported other candidates in the presidential election.

Thousands In Bashkortostan Join Federal Labor Protest
An estimated 5,000 people participated in a 10 June gathering near the Sport Palace in Ufa to protest social-benefits reforms proposed by the Russian government, Regnum reported on 11 June, citing Vsya Ufa television. The event was organized locally by the Bashkir Federation of Trade Unions. Unionists object to the federal government's intention to make regional and municipal authorities responsible for payments to state-budget employees. Meeting organizers stressed that are not seeking purely political aims and did not allow Communist leaders to address meeting participants.

Brazil Promotes Joint Projects With Ufa
Prospects for bilateral cooperation were on the agenda of a meeting between Bashkir Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolbin and Brazilian Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Russia Augusto Rego Santos Neves on 10 June in Moscow, Bashinform reported on 11 June, quoting a spokesman for the Bashkir Plenipotentiary Representation to Moscow, Azat Gafurov. The participation of Brazilian enterprises in tractor assembly at Bashkir enterprises was paid special attention. Bashkortostan's Industry and Economic Development Minister Valentin Vlasov and Deputy Foreign Economic Relations Minister Rishat Khalikov took part in the talks.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Ex-Federal Official To Represent Marii El In Federation Council
The Marii El State Assembly appointed on 10 June former Russian Deputy Culture Minister Natalya Dementeva as the Federation Council representative for the Marii El parliament, Regnum reported on 11 June, citing "Mariiskaya pravda." Dementeva was approved by a vote of 50 for and 11 opposed, some of whom protested the lack of alternative candidates. Dementeva's previous contact with the republic were restricted to promoting several cultural programs.

Suspects Detained In Samara Explosion...
Law-enforcement agencies detained five people, all Chechens, suspected of involvement in the 4 June blast at the Samara Kirov market, RosBalt reported on 11 June, citing the Prosecutor-General's Office. Plastic explosives and a grenade were seized from the suspects. The explosion of a device equivalent to 1.5 kilograms of TNT killed 11 people and injured 71.

...As Oblast Chechens Protest Persecutions Against Them
Meanwhile, representatives of Samara's Chechen population appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to defend them from "legal arbitrariness," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June. The Chechens claim that there have been mass arrests and detentions of Chechens in the investigation of the 4 June explosion. The daily cited oblast Migration Foundation Director Imali Abdumuslimov as saying that 15 Chechens have been detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB), though it said this has not been confirmed. The Chechens complained that dozens of young Chechen men were rounded up by police, even though everyone in the oblast knows the bombing was "a gangsters dispute." Abdumuslimov said that following the incident, Chechens older than 14 are afraid to be at home at night, fearing arrest and beating. At a meeting the previous day in Samara between Samara's Chechen National Cultural Center head Marat Beligov and Samara Oblast's chief federal inspector Andrei Kogtev, Kogtev called on the Chechens to treat the investigation with understanding. The head of the FSB in Samara, Viktor Yevtushenko, said there has been no reason to accuse the Chechens of involvement in the explosion and the case should not be politicized.

Saratov Oblast Rightists Urge Unified Russia Deputy To Run For Governor
The Honest Force bloc of Saratov Oblast democratic parties and civic groups appealed to State Duma Deputy Vladislav Tretyak to run for oblast governor in March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June. The bloc was established the previous week and united local branches of the Union of Rightist Forces, Yabloko, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the oblast Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, and the Youth Democratic Union. Tretyak won the December State Duma elections in a Saratov single-mandate district with 24.95 percent, defeating Duma Deputy Valerii Rashkin (Communist), and then joined the Unified Russia faction. Bloc leaders said that although Tretyak represents Unified Russia, they consider him the most suitable candidate. The daily cited rumors that Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov's refusal to run for re-election is behind the recent closure of a criminal case against him (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 18 and 25 May 2004).

Sverdlovsk Oblast Journalists Protest Dress Code In Local Parliament
A flash mob was staged in the Sverdlovsk Oblast Duma on 8 June by about 10 journalists who appeared in identical t-shirts with inscriptions in Japanese, Novyi region reported on 8 June. The journalists were protesting the dress code introduced by duma deputies, according to which reporters were prohibited to wear low-necked tops and t-shirts with inscriptions in foreign languages. The news agency, whose correspondent was among the protesters, commented that legislators who are weak in foreign languages are afraid that reporters could wear clothes with obscene or provocative inscriptions. The flash-mob participants were allowed, however, to attend the duma session. The dress code's initiators demonstratively ignored the protesters, while their more tolerant colleagues reportedly had a good laugh.

Moscow Restrains Tyumen Governor's Urge To Merge...
Russian presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev and his deputy Vladislav Surkov on 10 June in Moscow held a meeting with Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Yurii Neelov, and Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Filipenko devoted to mutual relations between the three entities, Novyi region reported on 11 June. Sobyanin called for the merger as soon as possible between the oblast and the okrugs and transferring the most important powers from the okrugs to Tyumen Oblast. Administration officials, however, spoke against hasty action in this regard and recommended Sobyanin, who wants the okrugs to be completely subordinate to the oblast, to moderate his position and develop within two weeks a draft on more even redistribution of powers between the three entities, taking into account the okrugs' interests. The news agency cited an unidentified source who took part in the meeting as commenting that Moscow was concerned with Sobyanin's zeal in promoting the merger, which could result in the creation of a huge entity with gigantic financial power and influence, and unclear goals.

...As Volga District Envoy Opposes Merger Of Tatarstan, Ulyanovsk Oblast
Presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko told a press conference that he has a watchful attitude towards the merger of regions, RosBalt reported on 10 June. Commenting on proposals about a merger of Tatarstan and Ulyanovsk Oblast, Kirienko said, "It should not be done at all, since the culture, customs, and traditions of those subjects are different." At the same time, Kirienko added that the law allows regions to merge if a majority of their population supports the proposal in a referendum. He predicted that regions will be merged in Russia, but very slowly.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova