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Tatar-Bashkir Report: May 6, 2003

6 May 2003
Tatarstan Celebrates May Day...
Tatarstan's Trade Unions Federation celebrated the traditional holiday of Spring and Labor on 1 May by marching from Kazan's Freedom Square to Gorkii Park and holding a meeting, which demanded "adequate" salaries for Tatarstan's workers, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The federation's chairwoman, Tatyana Vodopyanova, said at the meeting that her organization, along the national Trade Unions Federation, demands the urgent payment of wage arrears and further securing of timely payments, as well as increasing the official minimum wage. The trade unions also opposed the current pension and housing reforms introduced by the Russian government, demanding more social security for the working people.

According to an RFE/RL Kazan correspondent, some 4,000 people joined the march and the meeting, which was jointly organized by the Trade Unions Federation and the Unified Russia party branch in Tatarstan. The meeting involved groups of state-owned enterprises employees, and teachers and students from Kazan's higher education institutions.

...As Wages Arrears Resume Growth
According to Tatarstan's State Statistics Committee on 29 April, wage arrears in the republic have increased to 963 million rubles ($30.5 million) through April 2003, with 430 million rubles of this amount attributed to the agricultural industries. Collective farms in the Elke, Bauli, Drozhzhanoi, Kama Tamagi, Spas, Mamadish, Minzele, Yanga Chishme, Sarman, and Tetesh regions of Tatarstan are reported to top the list of wage delinquents, owing 4-6 months in wages.

Communists, LDPR Hold Joint May Day Event
The branches of the Russian Communist Party in Tatarstan and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) held a joint May Day meeting on 1 May in Gorkii park, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported yesterday. About 1,000 people joined the event, which took place after a meeting organized by Tatarstan's Trade Unions Federation and the Unified Russia party (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 1 May 2003). After demanding lower prices for consumer goods, food, and rents -- similar demands to those already made at the trade unions meeting -- Aleksandr Salii, a Communist deputy in the Russian State Duma, accused the trade unions and Unified Russia party of "concealing the truth about the real reasons for destruction and poverty.... [And] being pro-governmental by origin, they are trying to fool the people by pretending that they are critical of the government." Speakers at the meetings also condemned U.S. policy concerning Iraq and the sale of agricultural lands in Russia. Some 1,000 participants, most of them elderly, joined the event.

Government Confused By Industrial Growth And Falling Profits
Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov told a meeting of the republic's financial and tax collection bodies on 28 April that "one should not relax after reviewing the figures of [Tatarstan's] industrial growth in the first quarter of 2003, which reached 5 percent" compared to the same period of 2002, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Minnikhanov cited the profits of major republican enterprises as having decreased by a total of 1 billion rubles ($31.7 million) in the first three months of this year compared to last year. In Minnikhanov's words, the gap between output growth and falling profits was explained by "smart managers [that] have learned how to conceal profits, thus making the republican budget suffer." Minnikhanov asked that financial monitoring bodies set up special commissions that investigate republican enterprises, which report falling profits. Rinat Kheerov, head of the Russian Tax Ministry's board in Tatarstan told the same meeting that the new federal tax code, which has been in existence from 2002, "allowed industries to manipulate the financial flows and report all their expenses as production costs for lowering the profits and tax payments." However, he avoided naming "a number of major industries" that evaded taxes or the punishments they might receive.

New Governmental Body To Develop And Implement Tatarstan's Media Policies
On 1 May, the "Respublika Tatarstan" daily published a presidential decree on establishing Tatmedia, a new republican agency that will oversee the interaction between the government, media, and public, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. President Mintimer Shaimiev's 30 April decree said that the agency was being created because of the need to ensure "openness of information for citizens, protection of their right to information, establishing efficient interaction between state bodies and society, further development of mass media" and was part of the republican program for developing information and communications technologies. Before this decree, Tatarstan's Communications Ministry had born the responsibility for most of the republican government's media policies, after the Press and Mass Communications Ministry was abolished in 2001.

Government Reduces Funding Of Subsidized Medicines Program
Some 1.5 million of the 3.8 million residents of Tatarstan are able to buy state-subsidized medicines, Niyaz Geliullin, the first deputy health minister, and Feride Yerkeeva, the head of the Health Ministry's pharmacy and medical equipment department, told a press conference on 29 April, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported today. Geliullin emphasized that issuing subsidized medicines "remains a priority" for the republic's healthcare system. However, despite the growing number of Tatarstan's population eligible for subsidized medication in 2003, the republican budget allotted 303 million rubles ($9.6 million) for this program, which is 16 percent less than in 2002. According to Health Ministry statistics cited by Geliullin, an average Tatarstan resident annually consumes 987 rubles ($31) worth of medicines. In 2002, the retail price of medication rose by 16 percent compared to the previous year.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Joint Bashkir-Italian Venture Launched In Oktyabrskii
Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and Bashkir Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov took part on 25 April in an opening ceremony of the joint Bashkir-Italian company ItalBashkeramika in the town of Oktyabrskii, Bashinform reported the same day. The plant will produce 2.2 million square meters of ceramic tiles a year. Seventy percent of the 500,000 rubles ($16,160) invested in the construction came from the Bashkir budget, while the rest was paid by the Italian side and taken from the Oktyabrskii city budget.

Bashkortostan's Credit Rating Up
The Standard & Poor's rating agency has announced that Bashkortostan's long-term credit rating has risen from a B to a B+, which represents a stable prognosis, Finmarket reported on 25 April. Despite the growing financial burden, the republic's conservative debt policy and successful budgetary implementation are responsible for the increase, the agency reported.

Bashneft Halts Production Fall...
The Bashkir oil company Bashneft produced over 12 million tons of oil in 2002, a 1.3 percent growth compared to the previous year, RosBalt reported on 28 April, citing the oil company's press service. The increase in production is the first in the last 20 years and was reportedly due to the company's activity in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug. Bashneft is developing 150 deposits and, over the past year, has prospected new deposits in Bashkortostan and West Siberia. The company provides 20 percent of Bashkortostan's industrial production and one sixth of its budget revenues.

...Prevents Minor Shareholders From Participating In Its Shareholders Meeting
Bashneft's minor shareholders were prevented from taking part in a company shareholders meeting on 28 April and did not manage to elect David Geovanis, the executive director of metals group Basic Element, to the Bashneft board of directors as they planned, "Vedomosti" reported on 29 April. Alex Williams, a representative of Vostok Nafta Investment Ltd., told the daily that Bashneft's minor shareholders, including Basic Element, Vostok Nafta, and the Association on Defense of Investors' Rights, had consolidated more than 10 percent of Bashneft shares and wanted Geovanis on the board in order to get "a strong partner to resolve a lot of political issues existing in Bashkortostan." Williams said minor shareholders had problems registering and could only join the meeting by the time it was over. "We were deprived of the right of not only voting but also of stating our position," Williams said, adding "[while in Ufa], I felt I was not in Russia. What we saw persuaded us once more that Bashneft needs independent directors." Bashneft's major shareholder is the state-run Bashkir Fuel Company, which owns 63.7 percent of the oil company's shares. The Bashkir government has a 2.5 percent share in the company.

Bashneft Minor Shareholder Says He Was Deliberately Prevented From Being Elected To Company Board
Commenting on the controversial Bashneft shareholders meeting held on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 29 April 2003), David Geovanis, the executive director of the Basic Element metals group, who along with other minor shareholders was prevented from participating in the meeting, said that his shares alone should have been enough for him to be elected as a member of the board of directors, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 April. Geovanis reportedly said that the violations that took place at the shareholders meeting were aimed at preventing him from becoming an independent member of the board. Geovanis said the matter has convinced him of the need to defend the interests of minority shareholders on the board.

Court Reinstates Dismissed Head Of Tax Ministry's Bashkir Branch
The Ufa Lenin Raion court has ruled that the 25 March dismissal of Reshit Sattarov, the head of the Russian Taxation Ministry's Bashkir Directorate, was illegal, Bashinform reported on 1 May. Sattarov was fired on the orders of the Russian Taxation Minister Gennadii Bukaev (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 27 March 2003). The court ruled that Sattarov is to be reinstated and compensated financially for the period of his absence. The court also annulled a punishment inflicted on Sattarov by the minister. Sattarov filed a lawsuit against Bukaev after the latter dismissed him for non-implementation of official tasks and violation of the federal law on the principles of state service. Specifically, the ministry was dissatisfied with Sattarov's refusal to support the claim against Bashkir oil refineries -- the ministry is demanding the payment of 10 billion rubles ($321 million) of compensation for illegal tax breaks. Sattarov said on television that the oil refineries' refusal to pay was "illegal and aimed at non-payment of taxes."

Suit Against VIP-Motorcades Reaches European Court
Ufa resident Yevgenii Kareev, who sued the Bashkir and Russian governments for illegally blocking streets to let the motorcades of senior officials pass, has sent a similar appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, RosBalt reported on 30 April. Kareev told the news agency that the "possibilities for considering the controversial issue in the courts of the Russian Federation are over." Kareev said that, between February and April, he filed five lawsuits to different courts, but they all refused to consider the cases. Kareev said that the refusals were "evidence that Russia's judicial power depended on the executive." In his appeal to the Strasbourg court, he demanded that the Russian authorities pay him 100,000 euros ($112,534) in compensation.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Racist Leaflets Distributed In Chelyabinsk...
Nationalist leaflets calling for people to unite "against Caucasian and Asian yoke" appeared on Chelyabinsk's public transport, Electronic News Agency reported on 29 April. Chelyabinsk deputy administration head Albert Yenaleev told the agency that he plans to demand that the head of the Chelyabgortrans public transport company, Boris Shchupletsov, explain how the leaflets were distributed, adding that he believes this was an act of hooliganism.

...As Local Chinese Wear Bandages For Protection Against SARS
Chinese people in Chelyabinsk have begun wearing bandages made from cotton wool and gauze to placate local residents fearful of the spread of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, UralPressInform reported on 29 April. Meanwhile, the Chelyabinsk Sanitary and Epidemic Supervision Center recommended that the authorities refuse visas to 573 Chinese citizens who were planning to come to the oblast to work in the agricultural sector.

Kirov Resident Sentenced For Use Of Obscene Words
The Kirov Yaran Raion court has convicted for the first time an individual for the use of obscene words, reported on 30 April. The unnamed oblast resident was sentenced to a 2,500 ruble ($80) fine and three days of imprisonment for remarks made to his wife during the couple's divorce hearing. After the man showed no reaction to the judge's reprimand, he was removed from the court.

Anti-Fascist Campaign Launched In Marii El
A Marii El human rights group, People and Law, has launched a public campaign titled "Marii El Without Fascism," group leader Irina Poduzova told MariNews on 29 April. The campaign was launched in response to the recent daubing of neo-fascist slogans on the walls of the Yoshkar-Ola Jewish community office. The group wants to inform the republic's residents about the swastika, symbols of the Russian National Unity movement, and slogans evoking interethnic hatred.

AvtoVAZ Establishes Assembly Line In Uruguay
On 29 April, AvtoVAZ delivered the first consignment of spare parts to Uruguay for the assembly of 96 VAZ-21214 Niva automobiles, reported the next day, citing the AvtoVAZ press center. AvtoVAZ is due to deliver parts for the production of 1,920 vehicles in 2003. The Oferol company, based in Montevideo, Uruguay, which is to begin assembling Niva cars in July, is also planning to issue a model equipped with a Peugeot diesel engine. AutoVAZ is planning to set up assembly lines in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

First Stage Of Chemical Weapons Destruction Program Over...
The destruction of 1 percent of Russia's chemical weapon reserves was completed on 26 April, reported on 28 April, citing the presidential press service of the Volga district envoy. The first stage of this process, which included the destruction of 400.6 tons of yperite (a severe irritant of the skin and lungs), was completed a month before the term fixed by the Executive Committee of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expired. The chairman of the Russian State Commission on Chemical Disarmament, Sergei Kirienko, said that production of yperite at the Gornyi plant (in the Saratov Oblast) will be stopped in the near future and plans are being made to destroy lewisite, a powerful blister agent. Kirienko said the next facilities to join the project will be plants in the Kurgan Oblast and the republic of Udmurtia.

Under the international Convention on Prohibition of Development, Production, Accumulation, Use, and Sale of Chemical Weapons, ratified by Russia in 1997, the country shouldered obligations to destroy the 40,000 tons of chemical weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. The total cost of the program is 90.2 billion rubles ($2.9 billion).

...As Germany To Allocate 30 Million Euros For Program...
Visiting The Hague to take part in a conference of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on 28 April, Kirienko held negotiations with German Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Schmidt, during which it was reported that Germany will allocate 29.7 million euros ($33.7 million) for Russia to destroy chemical weapons this current year, reported on 29 April, citing the presidential envoy's press service in the Volga district.

...While Environmentalists Want To Slow Down Process
Russian environmental groups have appealed to President Vladimir Putin to slow down the destruction of chemical weapons in the Saratov Oblast, RosBalt reported on 1 May. Among 44 public leaders who signed the appeal -- which is the second addressed to the Russian president -- are heads of the Social Environmental Union of Russia, the Union For Chemical Safety, and human rights and environmental organizations from around the country. In the first appeal of 15 November, the groups asked the Russian president not to turn the operation of the Gornyi plant into "a chemical disarmament race" and "not to accept a facility which is still not ready." The leaders said the plant was launched in violation of the law as it used a method of destroying chemical arms which was dissimilar to one that underwent an environmental examination in 1999. In addition, the technology for the destruction of mustard gas and lewisite used at the facility reportedly never passed an environmental examination. In the latter appeal, environmentalists condemned those who hurry to destroy chemical weapons and said weapons should not be destroyed at any cost, secretly, and in violation of the law.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova