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Turkmen Report: January 12, 2004

12 January 2004
Turkmenistan Will Abolish Exit-Visa Requirement, Again
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 8 January signed documents that abolish the exit-visa requirement for Turkmen citizens to travel abroad, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported the same day. The Soviet-era exit-visa requirement was lifted once in Turkmenistan in 2000, but after an alleged attempt on Niyazov's life in November 2002, the Turkmen government reintroduced the exit-visa requirement. Niyazov said on 8 January that since the investigation into the alleged assassination attempt has been completed and some 60 people have been jailed for the crime, there was no longer any need for the exit visa. Several countries, among them the United States, and international rights organizations have complained about the reintroduction of the exit visa, saying it violates the basic human right of freedom of movement. (ITAR-TASS, RTR)

Paid Health-Care Introduced In Turkmenistan
President Niyazov has issued a decree introducing paid medical services in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. The objective of the measure is to reduce state health-care expenditures. In 2001, Niyazov cut the number of state-employed health-care workers by several thousand for the same purpose. The present decree requires that specialized medical facilities in Ashgabat and oblast centers become self-sufficient. The number of low- and mid-level medical personnel is to be reduced by 15,000. Emergency services, natal care, and children's facilities will continue to provide free services, as will facilities treating cancer, tuberculosis, alcoholism, and drug addiction, and mental-health problems. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan To Intensify Energy Cooperation
President Niyazov and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev want to see more intensive economic cooperation, Interfax reported on 8 January, citing the Turkmen presidential press service. During a telephone conversation on 7 January, the presidents agreed to set up working groups to draft regulations on economic cooperation, primarily in fuel and energy. The regulations will specify terms for the construction of oil and gas pipelines. The presidents said they were satisfied with their nations' economic cooperation last year. Niyazov also invited Nazarbayev to visit Turkmenistan, which may occur in April 2004, the press service said. (Interfax)

Moscow Concerned About Rights Of Ethnic Russians In Turkmenistan
The rights of the ethnic Russian minority in Turkmenistan is a problem that cannot be considered settled, Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Eleonora Mitrofanova has said, Interfax reported on 5 January. "The Turkmen authorities' assurances that the rights of ethnic Russians are not being violated and will be observed in the future somewhat improved the situation, but it would be premature to say that the problem has been settled," Mitrofanova said. "Russia has been making serious efforts in this area and has urged the Turkmen leadership on many occasions to hold a second meeting of the Russian-Turkmen Citizenship Commission. We are worried by Turkmenistan's unilateral decision to amend the law and actually do away with dual citizenship in that country," she said. On 10 April 2003, Russian and Turkmen Presidents Vladimir Putin and Saparmurat Niyazov signed a protocol terminating the 1993 Russian-Turkmen agreement on settling individual aspects of dual citizenship. Subsequently, Niyazov unilaterally signed a decree compelling individuals with dual citizenship to choose either Russia or Turkmenistan within two months. (Interfax)

Turkmen People To Get Free Gas, Water, Electricity, And Salt
The Turkmen government has released details on the state budget for 2004, which parliament adopted on 30 November 2003, Interfax reported on 5 January. A law signed by President Niyazov indicates that the state budget totals 63.442 trillion manats ($13.2 billion), including 13.790 trillion manats in the first-level budget. Current state budget spending will be financed with interest-free loans from the Turkmen Central Bank. These loans cannot exceed 5 percent of the first-level budget spending. The centralized budget of Turkmenistan for 2004 totals 59.438 trillion manats, including 9.787 trillion manats for the first-level budget. The budget assigns 1.376 trillion manats for the free supply of gas, water, electricity, and salt to the nation's people. Some 1.223 trillion manats will come from the state funds of ministries and departments. The law says that salaries, pensions, allowances, and scholarships are budget items that cannot be reduced. The official exchange rate is around 5,200 manats to the dollar, while the black market exchange rate reaches 21,500 manats to the dollar. (Interfax)