Some 5,000 Crimean Tatars demonstrated in the streets of Simferopol again yesterday. As on previous occasions, they called for accelerated citizenship to enable them and other deported peoples to vote in Ukraine’s March 29 parliamentary elections. This time, they blocked roads in and out of the city and the railway line. The police were out in force and violent scuffles occurred in which eight policemen were reported injured.
The Crimean Tatars were exiled from their homeland by Stalin in 1944. Many returnees have been prevented from acquiring Ukrainian citizenship by the strictness of Ukraine’s legislation, which is primarily designed to prevent Ukrainians from acquiring dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship.
Until now, Tatar demonstrations have always been peaceful. Violence is exactly what international observers have been warning would happen if the Ukrainian authorities did not take steps to alleviate the Tatars’ desperate plight. What especially angered the Tatars yesterday — and provoked the violence — was the news that earlier in the day the Ukrainian parliament had voted on the issue but failed to amend Ukraine’s electoral law to enable deportees without citizenship but with valid residence permits to take part in the elections. The Tatars blamed Communist lawmakers for blocking the amendment, saying they wanted to prevent Tatars from voting in order to boost what is expected to be a Communist landslide in elections to the Crimean parliament.
Order was restored yesterday when Tatar leader Refat Chubarov, a deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament, told the crowd that he would meet shortly with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Chubarov called on the demonstrators to reassemble in Simferopol on March 28, when he would tell them the result of his talks. But veteran Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev predicted that, if only two or three Tatars are elected to the Crimean parliament on March 29, the Tatars will turn to "non-parliamentary action" in an effort to defend their interests. (NTV, March 24)
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