Ashgabat, 29 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Large celebrations are underway this week in Turkmenistan to mark the country's fifth anniversary of independence.
An estimated 300 million viewers in Europe, Central Asia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are believed watching the festivities on direct satellite links arranged by Turkmenistan's government.
Opening over the weekend, a fourth Congress of Turkmen from around the world continues discussions in Ashgabat. President Saparamurat Niyazov opened the Congress, expressing his wish that delegates feel not like guests, but as hosts of the independence celebrations.
Our correspondent reports that Turkmen delegates are attending from, among others: the United States, Britain, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Pakistan, China, Turkey, the other Central Asian republics and Russia. Delegates are exchanging views on the lives of Turkmen in different areas of the world.
While Turkmenistan's population is fewer than five-million people, an estimated 20 million ethnic Turkmen inhabit areas of Central Asia and the Mideast, as well has live in sizable communities in other parts of the world.
After yesterday's military parade and rally to mark the official Day of Independence, President Niyazov and Central Bank officials met top representatives of American, Saudi and French oil companies. They discussed several big oil exploration and pipeline projects, including a planned natural gas pipeline that would carry Turkmen gas across Afghanistan to Pakistan.
A French construction company, which has already constructed the biggest mosque in Central Asia in Turkmenistan, also signed an agreement to build an exhibition and arts center in Ashgabat. The company's construction of Turkmenistan's new Presidential Palace is scheduled for completion next year, and France's President Jacques Chirac is invited for opening ceremonies.
Niyazov also signed a cooperation agreement with a top representative of Germany's Deutsche Bank.
The U.S. State Department presented a special grant to Turkmenistan's Institute of Chemistry to carry out a high-technology, iodine-extraction project.