22 February 2011, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of February 14-20

Assassination of tourists, collapse of ropeway and miraculously prevented terror act have called into question the tourist attractiveness of the Elbrus region; however, prospects of another ski resort - the pre-Olympic Sochi - continue gaining momentum; "Edinaya Rossiya" failed to find any "fresh" candidates for heading Chechnya; refugees' active protests in Georgia brought ownership rights to them, - look these and other events in the review of the week of February 14-20, 2011, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

KBR: ATTACK ON ELBRUS

Late last week a series of tragic events occurred in the territory of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (KBR), resulting in rapid escalation of the situation in the region; and the rest of many tourists in the area around Mount Elbrus became unsafe.

In the evening of February 18, an attack on a minibus (fixed-route taxi) in the KBR killed three persons - tourists from Moscow. On the next day, February 19, received information arrived about blowing up the cableway "Azau-Stary Krugozor" on Mount Elbrus. However, later a spokesman of the "Elbrustourist" stated that there was no explosion, and the reasons for the ropeway failure were bad weather and strong winds.

Also in the evening on February 19, in the Cheget Glade, near the hotel "Novy Povorot", a car stuffed with explosives was found. Fifty tourists were evacuated. Explosion specialists detected three bombs in the car with the total power of 70 kilos of TNT (trotyl) equivalent. They  managed to de-mine the car without casualties or victims.

The above developments forced to introduce on February 20 the counterterrorist operation (CTO) regime in the Elbrus and Baksan Districts, which covered the following dwelling settlements: Tyrnyauz, Kendelen, Bedyk, Bylym, Tegenekli, Terskol, Elbrus, Neitrino, Verkhniy Baksan, Lashkuta, Zhankhoteko, Zayukovo, Atazhukino and Islamei. Special measures and temporary restrictions are in force there.

The population was recommended to "increase the level of vigilance, remain calm and restraint, stop panic moods, render necessary assistance to law enforcement bodies, show respect for the participants of the CTO, not to interfere and not to create difficulties to operative services, strictly follow the commands of the officers from the Headquarters and units involved in the CTO - people's lives may depend on this."

According to the Russian Union of Tourist Industry, after what happened last week in the region tourists began refusing to go to Kabardino-Balkaria on holidays and vacations. However, local tourism experts argue that the killing of tourists from Moscow and other incidents have not affected the number of tourists at rest in the Elbrus region.

SOCHI: IOC, PUTIN AND MEDVEDEV ARE HAPPY WITH "ROSA KHUTOR"

On February 18, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin watched the European Cup competitions in Alpine skiing, held on courses of the mountain ski centre "Rosa Khutor" in Sochi. Also, they met the officials of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) there.

As reported by Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC's Coordinating Commission, who visited Sochi in the context of the first test competitions held at the ski resort "Rosa Khutor", about 75 percent of the construction works at the objects of the 2014 Winter Olympics will be completed by the end of this year.

Mr Killy treated the construction pace of Olympic facilities in Sochi as "absolutely incredible." According to his story, 40 percent of the scheduled construction works are already completed; and by the end of 2011, the figure will reach some 70-75 percent. He also stressed that for the first time in the IOC history the Olympics were entrusted to the country, where 80 percent of the infrastructure was to be created from zero.

In his turn, Alexander Zhukov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee, said that the IOC's Commission had highly praised the organization level of the European Cup on Olympic courses in Sochi. Vladimir Putin also emphasized that the ski courses are not inferior of the best Alpine slopes in Swiss and Austria, the AP reports. He added that experts had assured him of that.

CHECHNYA: NEW HEAD TO BE PICKED UP FROM OLD CANDIDATES

This week it has become known from Boris Gryzlov, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the "Edinaya Rossiya" (United Russia) Party and Speaker of the Russian Duma, about compilation of a list of candidates for the post of the head of the Chechen Republic, following the sitting of the Presidium of the General Council of "Edinaya Rossiya".

It is interesting to note that the present list of candidates presented by the Party is absolutely the same as four years ago. Then, it also included the names of Ramzan Kadyrov, incumbent head of Chechnya, Shaid Zhamaldaev, head of the Grozny Municipal District, and Muslim Khuchiev, Mayor of Grozny.

In accordance with the current legislation, the "Edinaya Rossiya" Party, which has a majority in the legislative bodies of Chechnya, was obliged to submit to Russian President at least three candidates for bringing to the local parliament for approval. The final word will be with the President of Russia. Following the submission of the list of candidates, the President has a fortnight for consideration and decision-making.

GEORGIA: REFUGEES GET HOUSING FACILITIES INTO OWNERSHIP

Last week the recently aggravated problem of refugees in Georgia remained in the spotlight. On February 17, Tbilisi hosted a meeting of NGO activists with the Minister for Matters of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). However, no members of the Civil Movement of Refugees were admitted to the meeting. In response, the refugees, who were picketing the Ministry, where the meeting was held, tried to enter the door without permission.

Later last week it became known that the Ministry for Matters of Refugees and Accommodation of Georgia had provided housing facilities into ownership to 140 families. According to the Ministry, 140 refugee families (379 persons in total) are now living in the former hotel "Akademicheskaya", located in the Nutsubidze District in Tbilisi. Now, the state has granted this residential area to them as property, together with all the necessary supporting documents. Earlier, they had replaced the roof of the building, carried out its gasification and installed individual meters.

The Georgian authorities have promised that in the near future about 12,000 IDP families will get their living space into ownership and live peacefully until their return to Abkhazia.

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