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Turkmen Report: April 27, 2004

27 April 2004
Turkmenistan Marks Day Of Akhaltekin Horse
25 April 2004

Turkmenistan marked the Day of the Akhaltekin Horse on 25 April, ITAR-TASS reported.

"Our love for magnificent Akhaltekin horses is enormous, as it is for everything that makes up the national treasures collected for centuries," Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said in his greetings to the nation's horse breeders. "The first thing we did after we obtained independence was taking care of the revival of the glory of the world's best Akhaltekin horses. We have horse racing and we have revived national contests of riders. We have built the most advanced horse-riding center."

A new $25 million horse-riding center was opened on the eve of the holiday.

The name Akhaltekin derives from a combination of the horse's place of origin, the Akhal oasis in the center of modern Turkmenistan, and the breeders of the horse, the Turkmen tribe Teke.

A picture of an Akhaltekin horse is in the center of the Turkmen national emblem. Turkmenistan has over 2,000 Akhaltekin horses at present. "Turkmen citizens worship Akhaltekin horses, and I am not an exception," Niyazov's greeting said. The president has his own stable of 200 horses. Turkmenistan marked the day with horse-riding tournaments, television programs, theater performances, and songs sung on town and village squares. (ITAR-TASS)

Human Rights In Turkmenistan May Be Discussed At UN
23 April 2004

The issue of Russian-speaking citizens' rights in Turkmenistan may be raised by Russia at the 59th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told a press conference on 23 April, Interfax reported.

"It is absolutely possible that the issue may be raised at the coming 59th session," Fedotov said.

He said that "by then, we will have decided what position to take, taking into account any progress or absence of progress" on the issue. Fedotov said that when the UN Commission on Human Rights looked into the issue in 2003, Russia did not consider it necessary. "This year, we have conducted serious talks with the Turkmen side regarding the rights of Russian-speaking citizens," he said.

He also said that long before the UN commission's session, Russia presented a number of requests and concerns to Turkmenistan. "There was a reassuring reaction from the Turkmen side, which said that our concerns would be examined. But this still remains a declaration of intent, and in reality, very little was done," Fedotov said. (Interfax)

Niyazov Dismisses Education Minister
23 April 2004

President Niyazov has dismissed the top officials of the country's Education Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April. At a cabinet session on 22 April, Niyazov fired Education Minister Mammetdurdy Sarykhanov and his deputy, charging them with extortion, bribe taking, and cronyism. Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova was at the session and said an investigation had proven the two officials' guilt. She also said directors at kindergartens in Ashgabat had been collecting salaries of 36 deceased people for five years. (ITAR-TASS)

President Sacks Finance Minister, Bank Officials
23 April 2004

President Niyazov has fired the country's finance minister and some bank officials for "lack of control by the banks over the use of money belonging to the state," ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April. Niyazov had asked prosecutors to check financial discipline at banks and during a cabinet session on 22 April, Prosecutor-General Atajanova said banks had extended some $8 million in loans that were now long overdue.

Niyazov said that the money was intended for paying the salaries of health-care and education workers. He then fired Finance Minister Yazgula Kakaliyev and the chairmen of the Turkmenistan and Garashsyzlyk national commercial banks. (ITAR-TASS)

Fountain To Be Built In Ashgabat On Site Of Russian Theater
19 April 2004

A $450,000 fountain will be built on the site of the former Russian theater in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat by decree of President Niyazov, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April.

"A park with a fountain will be built at the site of the Russian theater's building," Niyazov said in early February. By decision of government, the Pushkin Russian Drama Theater, the only company performing Russian drama in the country, moved from the downtown to the city outskirts, where it is now housed in the club of the former Ashgabat silk factory.

In March, the theater, built in 1951, was pulled down and a park was built in its place.

Niyazov's decree says that the fountain will be designed and built by the Turkish company Erku. It is expected to be completed in May. (ITAR-TASS)

European Parliament Calls For Tougher EU Action On Worldwide Human Rights
22 April 2004

By Ahto Lobjakas

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg debated on 21 April a draft report on the bloc's human rights policy. The draft warns that the fight against terrorism must respect fundamental human rights. The report also calls for the stricter enforcement of human rights clauses in EU accords with third countries. Apart from terrorism, the document focuses on aspects related to reproductive health and the situation of disabled people in the world.

The debate highlighted growing concerns within the EU that fundamental freedoms and rights could become casualties in the fight against global terrorism.

The draft text condemns terrorism as "one of the most serious challenges" facing the international community. The fight against terrorism is said to be the highest EU priority. At the same time, the report cautions that it must take place within international law.

Speaking at the debate, Ireland's Europe Minister Dick Roche also condemned terrorism and said it must be fought with all means available. However, he too warned that respect for human rights is a necessary precondition for the success of that effort.

"Yet in order to receive the widest possible support and to be successful in the long term, the fight against terrorism must be conducted in full respect of human rights, and in full respect of fundamental freedoms," Roche said. "Fostering human rights should indeed become an integral part of any fight against terrorism. We must also address the causes of terrorism. To seek to understand the causes of terrorism should not be understood as being in any way soft on terrorism or on the terrorists. On the contrary, it is an essential step in the elimination of terrorism."

Roche compared terrorism with a disease, saying the causes of terrorism must be addressed as well as its symptoms. Roche said hopes of solving terrorism by tackling its symptoms alone are "simplistic."

Another concern highlighted in the report -- and one which frequently surfaces in EU debates -- is the priority the EU places on human rights.

The report says the EU must address "more openly" human rights issues at meetings and summits with non-EU countries. Such discussions should also be fully reflected in any joint statements that may be issued.

The bloc's application of existing human rights clauses in agreements with other countries is condemned as "selective."

The European Parliament does not have any decision-making powers in EU foreign policy. But the report calls on the EU member states not to sacrifice human rights issues in favor of political, security, or economic concerns.

Irish Europe Minister Roche focused in his speech on the EU's record at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He listed a number of successful EU-sponsored resolutions condemning rights abuses in Belarus, Turkmenistan, and North Korea, as well as a motion criticizing Israel's security fence and settlement policy in the Palestinian territories.

Nevertheless, Roche noted a number of setbacks. "A number of important EU initiatives have fallen," Roche said. "This is in significant part due to the composition of the United Nations' Human Rights Commission. It also reflects the unwillingness of some regional groups to accept any condemnation of their members, and this has always struck me as one of the fatal flaws within the UN system. An initiative from the EU on Chechnya was defeated, and our resolution on Zimbabwe fell to a [competing motion] of no action."

Roche said the number of votes against the draft resolution on Chechnya had been "significantly higher" this time compared to last year.

Roche said a "more strategic" EU approach must be adopted.

The draft European Parliament report is particularly critical of the recent deterioration of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. China's increasing use of the death penalty and Internet restrictions also draws criticism. Human rights in Iran remain a concern as well.

The draft report describes reproductive health as a fundamental human right. It devotes much of its attention to the growing AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and notes that infection rates are on the increase in Russia as well.

The report says that although the main factor of transmission is increased drug use, there is also a sharp rise in mother-to-child transmission of the virus. The sexual spread of the virus is rising as well.

Addressing the rights of the disabled, the draft report calls for particular attention to be paid to combating anti-personnel mines. The document says that although the number of mine-producing countries has dropped sharply in the past few years, a number of major manufacturers -- including the United States, China, India, and Pakistan -- have yet to commit to the Ottawa treaty outlawing land mines. (RFE/RL)