Violence in Crimea after Tatar is shot

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The Independent Online
TENSIONS spread across Russian-inhabited areas of the former Soviet Union yesterday as violence broke out in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and a state of emergency was declared in a rebel Russian region of Moldova. In Crimea, where a Russian nationalist won elections last Sunday on a platform of secession from Ukraine, gunmen shot and wounded Iskander Memetov, a prominent politician from the Crimean Tatar minority.

Two of Mr Memetov's staff were killed and 10 other people injured in the incident, which occurred on Tuesday night in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. Mr Memetov is a wealthy businessman and the only Tatar member of the Crimean parliament. The shooting underlined the potential for widespread violence in Crimea, a region where the central Ukrainian authorities in Kiev face rising demands for self- determination from Russians, who make up 67 per cent of the peninsula's population, as well as from the Tatars.

During the election campaign, another leading Tatar politician, Yuri Osmanov, was murdered. It is unclear who was responsible either for that killing and or for the shooting of Mr Memetov.

The Crimean Tatars were deported en masse from their homeland by Stalin in 1944 and have begun to return only in the last five years. Yuri Meshkov, the Russian nationalist who won Sunday's first round of presidential elections by promising to reunite Crimea with Russia, pledged in his campaign to withdraw privileges extended to the Tatars since their return.

Like other Tatar politicians, Mr Memetov opposed Crimea's inclusion into Russia. He is an economic adviser to Mykola Bagrov, the head

of Crimea's parliament, who faces a run-off election against

Mr Meshkov for the presidency on 30 January and who advocates full co-operation with Kiev.

In Moldova, whose ethnic Romanian majority and Russian-speaking minority fought a brief war in 1991-92, the leader of a breakaway Russian- ruled region imposed a state of emergency. Igor Smirnov's order appeared to be connected with sharp disputes between his administration and officers in the former 14th Soviet Army, which is still stationed in the region despite protests from Moldova's leaders.

Mr Smirnov rules the self- proclaimed Dnestr Republic, a Russian separatist region in eastern Moldova on the left bank of the Dnestr river. After the Soviet Union's break-up, Mr Smirnov and the 14th Army appeared to see eye to eye on the objective of detaching the region from the rest of Moldova.

However, Russian army officers have sometimes indicated that they may drop their support for a separate Dnestr Republic if Moldova's authorities allow them to maintain a military base in the region. President Boris Yeltsin placed Moldova last June first on a list of former Soviet republics where Russia wanted basing rights. Russian commanders do not want to leave eastern Moldova because it is an ideal place from which to challenge Ukraine's southern border.

The head of the 14th Army, General Alexander Lebed, has attacked the hardline Communist rulers of the Dnestr Republic for supporting last October's revolt in Moscow. An other officer, Colonel Mikhail Bergman, has branded Mr Smirnov and his colleagues as 'a gang of thieves' plundering the region. Mr Smirnov has fought back by accusing the 14th Army of trying to depose him. His state of emergency is due to last until 1 March.