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Tatar-Bashkir Report: November 4, 2003

4 November 2003
Controversial Census Results Published
"Rossiiskaya gazeta" published on 29 October results of the October 2002 Russia-wide census, according to which the number of Tatars grew by 14,700 to 5.6 million compared to data from the 1989 census. Previous reports speculated that the Tatar population had grown by 150,000-160,000. The only region where the number of Tatars was reported to fall was Bashkortostan. Meanwhile, according to the census data, the overall number of Bashkirs in the Russian Federation increased by 330,000 to 1.678 million.

Offshore Company Contests Formation Of Svyazinvestneftekhim
Tatarstan's Supreme Arbitration Court on 28 October postponed a hearing on a lawsuit by Kolomna-based Newport Capital Ltd. contesting the establishment by the Tatar government of Svyazinvestneftekhim holding, to which state-owned stakes in 18 leading republican companies were passed (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 21 May 2003), "Vremya i dengi" reported on 29 October. Newport Capital, which owns 0.57 percent of Kazanorgsintez and less than 0.1 percent of Tatneft and is registered in the Caribbean, claims that the federal law on privatization was violated during the formation of Svyazinvestneftekhim. Specifically, it said the information on the planned sale of state property was not published 30 days before the event and information about the results of privatization deals was not published within a month as is required by the law. At the 28 October hearing, the court satisfied a request by the plaintiff to provide access to more documents related to the case, including the resolution by the Tatar Property Ministry on privatization of state property and the report about the estimation of the state's stakes in the 18 companies. Privatization through the establishment of Svyazinvestneftekhim has also been questioned by State Duma Deputy Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist Party) (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 24 July 2003).

Meeting Of Entrepreneurs Held In Chally
A republican congress of entrepreneurs opened on 28 October in Chally, reported the same day. Over 400 businessmen, President Mintimer Shaimiev, Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov, and representatives of the Tatar government attended the forum to discuss improvements in small businesses and agriculture, financial and investment support for small businesses, cooperation between small and large businesses, and the developing infrastructure of farmers' self-government. The congress, initiated by Tatarstan's Agency on the Development of Entrepreneurship, hopes to ease Tatarstan's transition from an economy based on fuel and energy to one based on high-tech industry.

Shaimiev Lauds Putin's Participation In OIC Meeting
Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board (MDI), which includes Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev, met on 27 October with representatives of Tatarstan's Muslim communities, Tatar-inform reported the same day. MDI Chairman Mufti Gosman Iskhaqov and other Muslim leaders were in attendance. Shaimiev told reporters after the meeting that Russia's Muslims had praised the recent gestures the Russian leadership had made toward them. Taking into account the multinational and multiconfessional nature of the Russian Federation, President Vladimir Putin made a politically important step by participating in the 10th session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Shaimiev said. He added that the event was an advantage not only for Russia but for the entire Islamic world. He said Tatarstan's two major faiths, Orthodoxy and Islam, have experienced friendship and concord for centuries. Shaimiev said that, even in troubled times, the leaders of the two faiths always called for people to be calm, show self-control, and be understanding of each other.

Duma Speaker Visits Kazan
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev visited Kazan on 24 October, Tatar agencies reported the same day. At his request, Seleznev had a meeting with President Mintimer Shaimiev, who is on vacation. Discussion about legislative work and the socioeconomic development of regions and the federation as a whole were on the agenda. Seleznev had a tour of the Kremlin and viewed the recently built entertainment center Pyramid and basketball arena. Seleznev also met with deputies of the State Council and the Kazan City Council, officials from the Tatar presidential administration, the Cabinet of Ministers, parliament, and reporters. Seleznev said the State Duma had long debates before it raised the electoral barrier for parties to be represented in the Duma from 5 percent in the December elections to 7 percent in the next Duma elections. He said it would be better to let the next State Duma to resolve the issue. Seleznev said the extreme left and the extreme right political forces are not likely to be represented in the new State Duma, and that the major struggle for seats will take place in the political center. He also called for the adoption of legislation regulating the recalling of deputies who move from one faction to another after they have been elected. Speaker Farid Mukhametshin praised Seleznev and the Duma for passing important legislation promoting tax, administrative, pension, and land reforms and for support of the federal program on Tatarstan's socioeconomic development.

Seleznev Expresses Support For Cyrillic-Only Law
During his visit to Kazan on 24 October, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev expressed his support for the federal law proclaiming Cyrillic as the mandatory script for all state languages in Russia. The law was adopted to prevent changing the Tatar language to a Latin script (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 18 November and 12 December 2002), RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 27 October. Tatarstan State Council Speaker Farid Mukhametshin disagreed with Seleznev, saying Tatarstan and the Tatar people should be permitted choose their own alphabet. He added that the republic plans to raise the issue again soon.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

CEC Denies Registration For Veremeenko As Presidential Candidate...
Bashkortostan's Central Election Commission (CEC) on 27 October officially denied registration as a presidential candidate to Sergei Veremeenko, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported the same day. The CEC explained its decision by citing what it called a number of campaign violations committed by the former top manager of the St.-Petersburg-based Mezhprombank during his campaign. Veremeenko is said to have spent more than $430,000 extra on his political campaign in addition to the $2.17 million available in the official campaign fund. He exceeded the fund's capacity by far more than 5 percent which, according to election laws, allows the CEC to deny him registration.

The CEC reportedly considered Veremeenko's case upon the appeal of another presidential candidate, Igor Izmestiev, who is a Russian Federation senator representing Bashkortostan and the former director of the Corus-Holding company, a subsidiary of the Corus Group (controlled by the son of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ural). Izmestiev is considered to be close to President Rakhimov, and on 23 October Russian Interior Ministry investigators searched Izmestiev's office as part of an investigation into an alleged tax-evasion case by Bashkir oil refineries. The Corus-Baikonur company is reported to have been used to register the Bashkir oil refineries in the Baikonur off-shore zone in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 24 October 2003).

Muslim Board Opposes Tax Code Amendments
If effectively adopted, the new amendments to the Russian Tax Code's provision on property tax will compromise the activities of religious organizations, a spokesperson for Ufa's Central Spiritual Directorate of Muslims (TsDUM) told RosBalt on 29 October. The amendments currently under discussion by the State Duma enforce the property tax on all religious organizations, representing "a major blow to their activities and disabling their charity, social, and educational activities." TsDUM appealed to Russia's president and parliament asking that the property-tax exemptions for religious institutions be continued, and expressing doubt that the federal government "will manage to solve the budget problem by taxing religious organizations."

Independent Observers Group To Monitor Elections In Bashkortostan
Following the recent statement of the Russian Fund for Free Elections in Ufa on illegal election-related activities of local authorities (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 30 October 2003), a special group of observers for the State Duma and presidential elections in Bashkortostan will be organized by the group. The Russian Fund for Free Elections oversees the fulfillment of the "Elections-2003" agreement on upholding clean election campaigning, which was signed by Russia's major political parties. The group of observers will include representatives of Yabloko, Russia's True Patriots Party, the Union of Rightist Forces, the Agrarian Party, and the People's Party.

Bashkir Election Commission Registers Four More Presidential Candidates
The Bashkir Central Election Commission (CEC) registered on 31 October four candidates for the Bashkir presidency, RosBalt reported the same day. The approval of the candidacy of incumbent President Murtaza Rakhimov was unanimous, although it followed the consideration of an appeal by another candidate, Khesen Idiatullin, who protested that Rakhimov has violated electoral rules. Leader of the Bashkir opposition movement Rus and director of the Moscow-based Institute of Federalism and Civil Society Aleksandr Arinin was registered by five votes against two. The commission also voted unanimously to register Communist Party candidate Resul Shugurov, and Andrei Pykhachev, a Velikii Novgorod resident, who is currently unemployed, RosBalt reported.

Veremeenko Appeals Election Commission's Decision To Block His Candidacy...
Presidential candidate Sergei Veremeenko appealed on 30 October to the federal Central Election Commission (TsIK) to annul the Bashkir CEC's 27 October ruling to refuse to register him as a candidate, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 October. The Bashkir CEC has said that publications about Veremeenko in federal and republican media were considered campaign material and had appeared before the permitted term. The commission also concluded that those publications cost 5.9 million rubles ($197,000), in excess of the sum permitted by law. Meanwhile, a working group of the TsIK recommended on 31 October that the TsIK annul the CEC's decision, RosBalt reported the same day. The federal electoral body is scheduled to consider Veremeenko's appeal on 3 November.

... Is Involved In Road Accident
Presidential candidate Veremeenko was in a road accident on 31 October in Iglin Raion, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 November. The accident happened 40 kilometers from Ufa when a car from Veremeenko's motorcade collided with a truck that was coming in the opposite direction. Veremeenko's Mercedes was behind the car when the incident happened and nobody was injured in the accident. The head of Veremeenko's electoral staff Marat Mirgazemov told "Kommersant-Daily" that "one cannot exclude the political implications of the accident." Mirgazemov said that recently another member of Veremeenko's team, Reis Dewletkuzhin, who has been critical of purported corruption within the Bashkir Interior Ministry, was also involved in a road accident. The daily cited the Bashkir Interior Ministry's press service as saying that accidents do not bear any relation to politics.

Civic Group Appeals To Putin Over Alleged Electoral Violations
The Bashkir branch of the Russian Fund for Free Elections has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the "harsh violations of electoral legislation during preparations for the elections" of State Duma deputies and the Bashkir president, RosBalt reported on 1 November. The authors of the statement demanded that Putin "take measures to secure the legality and purity of elections in Bashkortostan." "Use of administrative levers of power by republican authorities has reached an unprecedented scale," the appeal read. The authors wrote that state officials have actively participated in campaigning for candidates backed by the republic's leadership, while other candidates have had their efforts blocked. Opposition candidates have had problems in renting premises for their staff, are prohibited from arranging meetings with the electorate, and have had their campaign materials destroyed, the appeal read. The council is made up of local representatives of the Communist Party, Yabloko, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Union of Rightist Forces, the Russian Party of Life, and the People's Party of the Russian Federation.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

U.S. To Continue Financing Construction Of Chemical Plant In Shchuchye
The general director of the Russian Ammunition Agency, Viktor Kholstov, told reporters in Washington that the U.S. is ready to continue helping Russia dispose of its chemical weapons, reported on 29 October. While in the U.S., Kholstov met with senior officials from the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and the State Department. He said Americans expressed satisfaction with Russia�s implementation of the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons, under which it is to destroy chemical weapon stocks by 2012. Kholstov said the major share of U.S. aid is directed toward the construction of a plant to destroy chemical weapons in Shchuchye, Kurgan Oblast, more specifically to the construction of a residential area for American representatives and foreign observers. In 2003, the United States contributed $228 million to the process of destroying chemical weapons in Russia. Earlier this year, the head of the Chamber of Representatives' Committee on Military Affairs, Duncan Hunter, stated that "tens of millions of dollars have been wasted" on the construction of the Shchuchye facility and that the scheme of its financing must be revised. Some 2 million shells and rocket warheads filled with poison gases are to be annihilated in Shchuchye.

Moscow To Provide Subsidies For Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug...
President Vladimir Putin signed on 3 November a decree on the socioeconomic development of Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Perm Oblast, RosBalt reported the same day. The document provides for plans to connect the okrug to pipelines and develop its transport infrastructure from 2003-2006, including construction of the Ocher-Kudymkar-Kupros gas pipeline, a bridge over the Kama River, and highways. The Russian government was prescribed to allocate funds for those projects in the 2004, 2005, and 2006 budgets.

...As Putin Backs Its Merger With Perm Oblast...
Visiting Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug on 31 October, President Putin commented on the issue of a merger of federation subjects, in particular, of the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug and Perm Oblast, reported on 3 November. Putin believes that after the merger the two entities will be able to develop and integrate their economics. Putin said many federation entities are formally independent but are unable to improve the living conditions of the indigenous population. "In our effort to increase material wealth and conditions, we should not forget another major task, which is the preservation of the languages and cultures of indigenous people," Putin said. He added, however, that entities "should not be forced" to pass decisions on mergers.

...Encouraging Supporters Of Another Merger Project on 3 November cited unnamed analysts as commenting that President Putin's statement to be a show of support for a recent proposal by Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel to merge the Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Kurgan oblasts (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 30 September 2003). Rossel's idea, however, has been met with strong resistance from the heads of the Chelyabinsk and Kurgan oblasts. Kurgan Oblast Governor Oleg Bogomolov commented that "the issue of territorial redivision may become destructive for Russia." Chelyabinsk Oblast Vice Governor Andrei Kosilov said that, "from the logical and common-sense point of view, ideas of mergers in the Ural Federal District do not stand up to criticism."

National-Bolsheviks Continue Tomato-Throwing
Dmitrii Doroshenko, an activist in the National-Bolshevik Party in Samara who threw a tomato on 28 October at Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, will be fined 500 rubles ($17), RosBalt reported on 3 November. The Samara Lenin Raion Court passed the verdict the same day, convicting Doroshenko of "hooliganism." However, representatives of the National-Bolshevik Party's local branch consider the event a political action, according to the news agency. In May, another local supporter of the National-Bolshevik Party splashed water into the face of Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 20 May 2003), while in September party members in Tyumen threw tomatoes at Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Weekly Review," 28 October 2003).

Sverdlovsk Oblast, Germany Develop Joint Projects
Sverdlovsk Oblast Deputy Foreign Economic Relations Minister Boris Shipitsyn told an oblast government meeting on 27 October that multimillion investments are expected to come to the oblast in the wake of a Russian-German summit held in Yekaterinburg on 8-9 October between President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, "Novyi Region" reported the same day. Specifically, Shipitsyn said, an agreement on the construction in Yekaterinburg of a German trade center was reached, and representatives of the Metro AG company that will implement the project are choosing a five-hectare plot of land for the facility. The second project aims to set up the assembly of Mercedes trucks on the basis of Novouralsk's Ural automobile engine plant, which faces bankruptcy. Also, a 100-million-euro credit line will be opened next year to construct a pipe plant in Nizhnii Tagil. Under another contract signed during the summit, 10 million euros will be invested in the modernization of the Irbit glass factory. Shipitsyn also said that Germany's general consulate will be opened in Yekaterinburg within three or four months to promote trade relations and defend the interests of investors.

Schools In Sverdlovsk Oblast Close After Being Disconnected From Heat
Thirty-two educational institutions in Sverdlovsk Oblast have been closed because of a lack of heating, Uralinformbyuro reported on 27 October, citing the oblast's Center of Sanitary and Epidemiological Supervision. A total of 129 educational institutions are not getting heat in the oblasts, of which 68 were cut off because of the municipalities' debts to energy suppliers, while the others do not receive heat because of malfunctioning heating systems.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova