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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    February 16

    IZVESTIA

    Another tragedy hit Moscow on Saturday evening. Hundreds of people who had come to the Transvaal aqua-park to celebrate St Valentine's Day were buried under rubble when the building's roof collapsed. When today's Izvestia issue was released, 28 bodies had been retrieved, but rescuers suggest that 40 people at least had been killed. It is yet unclear who is to blame for the tragedy - the architects or builders. On Sunday, both of them had their licences withdrawn.

    Alexei Klimenko, member of the expert and consultative public council of the Moscow mayor's office, told Izvestia his version of the tragedy: "I am 99% certain that the reasons for the tragedy lie in the construction and exploitation, not the architectural design. The architects designed the building to be ten times safer than is normally required by safety standards. But how the project was implemented is a separate issue, especially considering that Turks built it. Let's take the Music House in Krasniye Kholmy that they built and that was so pompously unveiled. It is obvious that they worked carelessly. During a concert in this building, a grand piano fell through the stage, thankfully, before the pianist approached it. To save money, the Turks hire provincial workers. Plus, corruption is rife at any construction site of Moscow, from getting a construction licence to replacing concrete with another, cheaper brand, or simply with sand. I expect the expert study to prove this, if we are ever to learn the truth about its results."

    KOMMERSANT

    Official negotiations between Austrian President Thomas Klestil and Vladimir Putin have concluded. During their two-day meeting in Novo-Ogarevo in the Moscow region, the newspaper says, the sides discussed bilateral issues, international problems, and also Russia's co-operation with the European Union (EU).

    Russia's relations with Austria should now be seen through its relations with the EU, said Mr Klestil. At a press conference summing up talks, the two leaders concurred that there were no problems in bilateral relations. As for EU-Russia co-operation, the Austrian president said Europe needed Russia and Russia needed Europe.

    Mr Putin, Kommersant continues, pointed to the increasing trade turnover between Russia and Austria. In reply, Mr Klestil emphasised the growing Austrian investment in Russian economy, which testified to the increasing stability and welfare in Russia, as he put it.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Last week was very successful for the Russian stock market. The Russian trading system, the country's main stock exchange index, hit a record high of 644.71 points on Friday. The second highest ever index was registered at 643.3 on October 20, 2003.

    Russian stock market indices grew throughout last week. The Moscow metro blast on February 6 did not affect stock prices. On Tuesday, they began growing more dynamically with the opening of the OPEC summit. The increase in stock prices is due to the cartel's decision to cut oil production by 1 million barrels a day from April 1, 2004. This means that oil prices will not go down in spring and Russian oil companies will not sustain losses.

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    Chechen separatists have lost one of their sponsors. Zelimkhan Yandarviyev, 51, was killed on Friday and buried on Saturday in the prestigious Rayan cemetery in Qatar. Rayan is the burial place for members of the ruling family and their entourage. Some 700 people came to pay their last respects to the man who had for three years been wanted by Interpol, but mysteriously had avoided capture. Mr Yandarbiyev had been placed on the Interpol wanted list at Russia's request, while the Russian Prosecutor General's Office had sought his extradition.

    "Yandarbiyev became a obstacle for everyone, to both the Qatar authorities and the American and Russian security services," Akram Huzam, head of Al-Jazeera's Moscow office, told the paper.

    GAZETA

    As there have been increasingly more in-flight nuisance cases, Russian airlines are creating a database on all such cases, i.e. a "black list" of passengers whose disorderly conduct poses a major danger to passengers and crews. Air tickets will not be sold to offenders on the list. They will be barred from travelling by air.

    The initiative to draw up a single list of offenders was advanced by Transaero. The company is inviting all Russian air carriers to join the project.

    Data from the list will be provided to the airlines of the former Soviet republics and countries outside the former USSR in exchange for their information, a Transaero spokesman told Gazeta.

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