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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Crimean Tatars mark wartime deportations
Crimean Tatars preparing to march
Crimean Tatars are making gains through politics
About 10,000 Crimean Tatars marched though the streets of the region's capital on Saturday to commemorate the victims of a mass deportation in 1944.

Russian television showed pictures of Tatars participating in the rally in Simferopol, which has become an annual event.

Fifty-eight years ago, more than 200,000 Tatars, Armenians, Greeks and Bulgarians were sent from Crimea to Siberia and Central Asia in just two days, on the orders of Soviet leader Josef Stalin following accusations of collaboration with Nazi Germany.

Crimean Tatars praying at the rally
Islam is a key part of the Tatars' identity
An estimated 40% died in the first few years of exile, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union about 250,000 deportees and their descendants have returned to the Black Sea peninsula.

The annual rally is part commemoration, part political protest, with prayers for the victims accompanied by demands for greater rights - especially for distribution of land and recognition of the Tatar language.

Official mourning

Marking the anniversary this year, the Crimean government declared that the deportation was the most humiliating page in the region's history.

Russian TV reported that flags flew at half-staff on government buildings across the peninsula.

Although life is hard for the returnees - only 5% of their settlements have paved roads - there are signs that life is improving.

More than 60,000 Tatars have acquired Ukrainian citizenship since 1998, according to a report in the newspaper Den before elections at the end of March.

Political progress

Seven Tatar deputies were elected to the 100-member Crimean regional parliament - seven more than in the 1998 poll.

Tatar politician Ilmi Ulmerov
Ulmerov says political progress reduces unrest
At local level, they are even better represented - 14% of local councillors are Tatars, who make up only 12.3% of the electorate, according to a report in the local Krymskoye Vremya newspaper.

Local Tatar leaders say that increased political representation is a guarantee that the returnees' needs will be taken care of, Ukrainian television reported.

Ilmi Ulmerov, the Tatar leader in the Crimean parliament, said Tatars' rights would now be defended in government, reducing the chance of ethnic conflict.

First of all, it will be [for] the construction of houses, then electricity and water supply

Tatar leader Edip Hafarov
"Is this not proof that there will be no confrontation, at least no serious confrontation," the deputy speaker said of the returnees political presence.

In a further boost, the national government in Kiev has approved funding for a programme to resettle Tatars and deportees from other ethnic groups who have returned to Crimea.

The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reports that each year until 2005, 49.4 million hryvnias - about $9m - will be spent on the construction of apartments, power lines and water pipes.

"First of all, it will be [for] the construction of houses, then electricity and water supply," said Edip Hafarov, an ethnic-Tatar serving as a deputy prime minister in the Crimean government.

The programme, which will be mainly funded by the government in Kiev with contributions from the regional budget and international aid groups, also envisages the construction of five schools.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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