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    Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, March 23

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    New parliamentary center to replace Rossiya Hotel / Japanese car sales speed ahead / Synagogue opens in Butyrka remand prison

    New parliamentary center to replace Rossiya Hotel
    A parliamentary center is going to be built on the site of the demolished Rossiya Hotel in Moscow. The idea is not a novel one, but it is only following the dismissal of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov that the city and federal authorities have been able to put it into practice.

    The parliamentary center is to put under one roof the upper and lower houses of parliament (their administrative offices are currently scattered all over the city,) and provide housing for non-Moscow deputies and sports and entertainment facilities, says an official close to the Kremlin administration. Currently, the State Duma occupies two buildings near Okhotny Ryad metro station, while the Federation Council is located partly on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street and partly on Novy Arbat street. The center will comprise a giant complex of buildings and a hall seating 5,000.

    The news that a parliamentary center is to be erected next to the Kremlin to house both the Federation Council and the State Duma was broken by a high-placed City Hall official, who said that a final decision has now been made and talks are under way to hand over the site to the President’s Administrative Directorate, which will lead the construction project. Development rights for the territory near the Kremlin will be transferred from the Rossiya company, currently owned by Moscow City Hall, to the state, a source close to Rossiya said. According to the source, the idea originated with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

    The idea of erecting a parliamentary center at the Rossiya Hotel site on the Moskva River embankment next to the Kremlin has long been in the air. But, according to a source close to the Kremlin, neither the country’s leadership nor the Moscow government could agree on the plans. First, former mayor Yury Luzhkov raised objections. The ST Development company, owned by Shalva Chigirinsky, a business partner of the former mayor’s wife, first won the tender to pull down the hotel and redevelop the area. But Monab, the company that lost the tender, took ST Development to court and the city cancelled the contract. By then, the hotel had been 90% demolished and Chigirinsky’s relationship with the mayor’s wife had deteriorated. The development plans and the site returned to the city authorities.

    It is now up to the Moscow government to decide its future, says a source close to the Rossiya company. But the source warns that the construction project requires $2 billion to $3 billion, which will have to come from the federal budget.

    Japanese car sales speed ahead
    Russians are rushing to buy Japanese cars for fear of possible shortages as a result of the natural and nuclear disasters in the country.
    Several readers told Vedemosti that they signed contracts to purchase Japanese cars at the weekend, earlier than planned. They explain their haste by the fact that they know they can buy Japanese vehicles in Russia at the moment, but fear future deliveries from Japan may be disrupted, or that the cars themselves might be contaminated with radiation.

    Auto dealers have noted this rise in demand for Japanese cars. Mazda dealers notified the head office about rising sales last week, saying 25% more contracts were signed than during the previous week, a Mazda Motor Corporation Russia spokesperson told the paper. Toyota Motor Corporation Russia spokesperson Tatiana Rusakova and Subaru PR manager Svetlana Lisitsyna also noted rising demand.

    Auto dealers with the Moscow-based Rolf Group signed 20-30% more contracts than usual over the weekend, said Kirill Ustinov, a spokesman for Rolf Import Co., Mitsubishi Motors’ official distributor in Russia. “We saw increased demand as early as March 12-13, immediately after the disaster in Japan,” he said. Mitsubishi is attempting to reassure its clients that there will be no shortages because its plants are nowhere near the disaster area. Nonetheless, cars are being tested for possible radioactive contamination, Ustinov said.
    A Suzuki Motor Corporation spokesperson said radiation checks near its main production sites had not revealed any abnormal radiation levels, instead ascribing increased sales to the high season.

    Dealers admit that there is usually heightened market activity in spring, but that the increase in other makes is currently less marked. Demand for foreign cars has increased by 10-15% on average, said Oleg Datskiv, who runs the Russian motoring website Auto-Dealer.ru. He said people were calling and asking where the vehicles were assembled and whether any components had been contaminated with radiation, noting that some clients had even asked for refunds. 

    Apart from increased demand for cars already in (or being shipped to) Russia, a number of June-July 2011 contracts have been terminated, officials at two Japanese auto dealers confirmed. Some clients are being overcautious, one of them complained. Some dealers are buying Geiger counters in order to prove their cars are safe, Datskiv noted.
    Prices have not increased so far, dealers say.

    Synagogue opens in Butyrka remand prison
    Moscow’s notorious 19th-century Butyrka prison is installing a synagogue for its inmates.
    Butyrka is Russia’s largest remand prison, a holding facility where inmates await trial and the synagogue is due to open there on March 24. Federal penitentiary service officials believe worship facilities exert good influence on convicts.

    “There are many reasons why Butyrka was chosen,” said Rabbi Aharon Gurevich of the Federation of Jewish Communities, who heads the department for liaison with the army and law-enforcement bodies. “The main one is that there is a high number of Jewish inmates in this facility, and as many as 20 said in a survey they would like to attend services and lectures. I didn’t expect that much interest.”
    He also said that prison director Sergei Telyatnikov personally supported the proposal. Butyrka’s location within walking distance from Moscow’s Jewish Community Center also played a role. Rabbis will be able to visit the prison on Saturdays when they are not allowed to work or use transport.
    The new synagogue at Butyrka is housed in two adjacent rooms on the same floor as the rooms used by Muslim inmates. It will be open two days a week, for prayer on Saturdays and for lectures on Jewish traditions and the history of Judaism on one other day.
    No other remand prison in Russia has worship facilities for Jewish believers, although there are a few synagogues in prisons for convicted criminals, Rabbi Gurevich said.

    Unlike Orthodox Christianity, there is no tradition of confession in Judaism. Confession always poses a challenge for prison clerics: they have to make difficult decisions between their duty to uphold the sanctity of confession and to pass on details of crimes.

    “Psychologists working with prison inmates often face this problem too,” said Mikhail Debolsky from Moscow psychology institute who used to head the psychology department at the Federal Penitentiary Service. “We usually try to be guided by a simple rule: confidentiality only applies to highly personal information. If an inmate talks to a psychologist about a crime, such as preparations for a prison-break or riot, the psychologist’s responsibility is to persuade them to give evidence. As a last resort, the psychologist must inform prison officials.”
    RIA Novosti is not responsible for the content of outside sources.

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