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Turkmen Report: January 15, 2003


15 January 2003
NATIONAL NEWS
Niyazov To Suspend Double Citizenship Accord With Russia
13 January 2003

Turkmenistan has proposed to Russia suspending an agreement on double citizenship, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said at a reception devoted to the day of defenders of the motherland, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January.

Niyazov has raised the issue in connection with the 25 November alleged attempt on his life. He claimed most of masterminds behind the assassination attempt had Turkmen-Russian citizenship. "We are suspending the granting of double citizenship for the time being," Niyazov said, addling that "as a crime against Turkmenistan is committed, holders of double citizenship must be answerable and punished in accordance with Turkmen legislation."

Niyazov said the alleged coup attempt in Turkmenistan, in which he said 16 foreign national were involved, warranted several new laws on control of the stay of foreigners in the Central Asian republic. (ITAR-TASS)

Niyazov Says Six Turks In Detention To Be Sent Home
12 January 2003

President Niyazov said that documents have been prepared to allow the return home of six Turkish citizens who were detained in connection with the assassination attempt against him, AP reported on 12 January.

In a speech broadcast on state television, Niyazov said the six Turks were among 16 foreigners detained. Overall, 61 people are in custody in connection with the 25 November incident, in which the government says Niyazov's motorcade came under fire

Former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov was convicted in a one-day trial last month of plotting to assassinate Niyazov. Shikhmuradov said before his arrest that the alleged plot was a fabrication aimed at providing a pretext for cracking down on opposition. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Niyazov has led Turkmenistan since 1985. He has resisted moves towards greater democracy. (AP)

Turkmenistan Human Rights Meeting In Vienna
12 January 2003

A meeting on human rights and democracy in Turkmenistan opened in Vienna on 12 January, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported the same day. The two-day meeting was organized by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Organization.

Participating in the gathering are members of the Turkmen opposition in exile, human rights activists, and media representatives. The purpose of the talks is to share information on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. The meeting also will offer information to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Reports say the OSCE is considering sending a fact-finding mission to Turkmenistan to seek information on the human rights situation in that country. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Niyazov Holds Talks With Leader Of Turkey's Ruling Party
9 January 2003

Turkmenistan and Turkey have agreed upon programs for long-term cooperation, Interfax reported on 9 January, citing a spokesman for the Turkmen presidential administration.

A joint communique was signed in Ashgabat after Turkmen President Niyazov met with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party. "At the meeting, the two coordinated the main parameters for the long-term program between the two countries and discussed the details, the time frame and how to carry it out," a spokesman said.

Currently, Turkmenistan and Turkey have over 80 interstate and intergovernmental treaties and about 30 interministerial agreements.

Turkey is also one of Turkmenistan's key foreign-trade partners. In 2002, their trade turnover stood at about $400 million, while investment by Turkish firms in the Turkmen economy exceeds $2 billion. Over 400 companies with Turkish capital operate in Turkmenistan in the oil and gas, textile, transportation, and construction sectors, as well as in agriculture, health care, trade, energy, and the hotel business. (Interfax)

Turkmen President Replaces Top Islamic Cleric
8 January 2003

Saparmurat Niyazov has sacked the country's leading Islamic cleric, Interfax reported on 8 January.

The day before, Niyazov fired Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah and appointed 35-year-old Kakageldy Vepaev to take his place. No reason was given for the change. Vepaev was previously the imam of Turkmenistan's Mary province. (Interfax)

Turkmen President Sets Date For Next Presidential Elections


7 January 2003

Meeting with members of the clergy on 7 January, President Niyazov again said that presidential elections should take place no later than 2008-10, adding that the People's Council should select from three to five potential candidates each year who would then run for that office "in the event that something happens to the president," turkmenistan.ru reported.

But Niyazov apparently did not say, as he has done on previous occasions, that he might voluntarily relinquish the presidency to make way for a younger candidate. In February 2000, Niyazov said he will step down within five to seven years; in February 2001, he said he will leave office no later than 2010; and in June 2002 he said presidential elections could be held in 2007-08. (Turkmenistan.ru)

Turkmenistan Adopts New Election Law
7 January 2003

The Turkmen press has published the country's new election law, turkmenistan.ru reported on 7 January.

Turkmen citizens who are at least 25, have not been convicted of a crime, and have lived in Turkmenistan for at least 10 years prior to the ballot may run in elections. AP reported on 3 January that elections to the new 50-seat parliament have been scheduled for 6 April. (Turkmenistan.ru, AP)

FEATURES AND ANALYSIS
Turkmenistan Calls Early Parliamentary Elections
9 January 2003

By Bruce Pannier

The state-owned Turkmen daily "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" made the announcement last week in a small article: In just over 30 words, the newspaper announced that elections to the country's 50-seat parliament will be held on 6 April. Elections had been scheduled for December 2004.

Daphne Ter-Sakarian is an analyst for Russia and Central Asia at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. She links the early elections to the alleged assassination attempt in November against President Saparmurat Niyazov. She said Niyazov may now be looking to consolidate his position. "Now with the situation that we have in Turkmenistan, where there's repeated purges and this bizarre assassination attempt, it seems to me that behind the scenes maybe there's a reallocation of positions and posts as Niyazov shuffles the cards to strengthen his position. So maybe he's decided that he needs a more thorough redistribution than we have seen thus far," Ter-Sakarian said.

Turkmen authorities followed the alleged assassination attempt with a harsh crackdown. Human rights groups claim that more than 100 people have been arrested in connection with the attack, including citizens of other countries, as well as former Turkmen government officials and businessmen.

The most significant arrest was of former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov. Shikhmuradov surrendered to authorities in Turkmenistan, claiming in a public statement released just before he handed himself in that he was doing so because "arrested people have been tortured, beaten up, and subjected to psychological pressure in the cruelest way to receive any information about my whereabouts."

He later confessed on state television to masterminding a coup attempt against Niyazov and was sentenced to life in prison.

Shikhmuradov still occupied his post as foreign minister when the current Turkmen parliament was elected. As a veteran of the Turkmen government for nearly a decade, Shikhmuradov would likely know all of the sitting deputies and could perhaps count many among them as friends or acquaintances.

Analysts say Niyazov could feel threatened by these relationships and is calling early elections in an effort to purge disloyal deputies.

Alexander Zaslavsky is the director of consulting at the New York-based Eurasia Group, a research and consulting group specializing in emerging markets. He said the situation in Turkmenistan prior to the 25 November attack against Niyazov was "fluid" and that many Turkmen opposition figures in exile were meeting and traveling, including trips inside Turkmenistan itself.

Zaslavsky said it would not be surprising if some of these opposition figures had made contact with individuals in Turkmenistan, including sympathizers in the government itself. "I would not be surprised if there were quite a few opposition sympathizers in the parliament currently or among the population," Zaslavsky said.

Though many Turkmen government officials have been charged with crimes and jailed in the past, it is rare that they are charged while serving in office. The usual scenario is that officials are fired for shortcomings in their work, and sometime later criminal charges surface.

While it is unclear who, if anyone, Niyazov may suspect, analysts say the number of deputies under suspicion could be enough to avoid simply sacking them en masse. Such large-scale dismissals would not go unnoticed, and explaining such firings by admitting they were part of a conspiracy would be politically embarrassing and potentially dangerous, since any hint that anti-Niyazov feelings had widespread support in the government could encourage others.

However, Zaslavsky said the reason for holding early parliamentary elections could simply be as a symbolic show of support for the Turkmen president. "President Niyazov is clearly seeking to legitimize his position further, as if it was particularly necessary, in the aftermath of the alleged assassination attempt. I think the logic is in establishing yet another popular show of mass support for the president, and undoubtedly the turnout will be enormous," Zaslavsky said.

Ter-Sakarian of the Economist Intelligence Unit said the early elections could be a warning to some that Niyazov is unsatisfied with their level of loyalty or are an attempt to placate groups whose support Niyazov feels he needs at this time. "Perhaps this sends a signal that he's serious about a thorough reshuffle. It's maybe a signal of his [Niyazov's] discontent with how things are going. It could be also a signal to factions that are discontented. Maybe they want broader access and this is, in fact, a concession. It could be either of those things," Ter-Sakarian said.

According to Turkmenistan's law on elections, it is "forbidden to directly or indirectly interfere with the election rights of Turkmenistan's citizens due to nationality, place of origin, gender, language, education, religion, political convictions, or party affiliation."

However, Niyazov instituted a rule a few years ago that anyone serving in the Turkmen government must have his family history checked back three generations, which would exclude anyone who is not from a Turkmen family whose background is acceptable to the Turkmen government. The only religions tolerated in Turkmenistan are moderate Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy. The only officially registered political party is the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, headed by Niyazov.

All this leads analysts to believe the new members of the Turkmen parliament will be as compliant as their predecessors and possessed of a loyalty toward Niyazov that would suffer no rival. (RFE/RL)

Turkmenistan Lashes Out At U.S. Criticism Of Assassination Investigation
8 January 2003

By Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan's state-owned daily newspaper "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" today printed an open letter to U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker criticizing him for comments he made at the end of last year.

On 31 December, a statement issued by Reeker said the United States was "deeply concerned by the conduct of authorities in Turkmenistan following the November 25 attack on the motorcade of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov."

Niyazov's motorcade was fired on in Ashgabat on 25 November as the Turkmen president traveled to work. Niyazov quickly blamed his main political rivals for organizing the plot.

Reeker's statement went on to say that while the United States recognized the Turkmen government's right to apprehend those involved, the U.S. government could not condone any actions that violate international practice and the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Turkmenistan is a member.

Reeker's statement said the Turkmen government has conducted summary trials of the alleged suspects without due process of law. He also said the United States had "credible reports of torture and abuse of suspects."

The open letter, signed by the editors of 15 Turkmen newspapers and magazines and the chairman of the state news agency, calls Reeker's charges groundless and says the authors felt obliged to address what they call his "lies and fabrications."

The letter questions why the United States has failed to support the Turkmen government in its current search for the perpetrators of the attack on Niyazov and cites repeated contact between the U.S. ambassador to Ashgabat and the man who Turkmen authorities claim was responsible for planning the attack, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov.

Shikhmuradov, an opposition member who had been living in exile in Russia, was quickly named as the main architect of the alleged attempted coup d'etat. He surrendered to the Turkmen authorities late last month and was sentenced to life in prison on 30 December after the broadcast of a televised confession.

The "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" letter says the U.S. ambassador spoke by telephone with Shikhmuradov three times after a warrant had been issued for Shikhmuradov's arrest. The letter said the official had advised Shikhmuradov.

The letter also defies Reeker's claims of mass arrests and says that only 33 people, including 11 foreigners from Russia, Turkey, and the United States, have been arrested in connection with the plot. Nongovernmental human rights groups have also accused the Turkmen government of using the assassination plot to crack down on political opponents and to arrest large numbers of people.

The Turkmen government has been under increasing pressure to allow international human rights groups or the OSCE, which has already criticized the televised confessions of several suspects as reminiscent of the Stalinist purge trials of the 1930s, to send representatives to visit suspects in the case.

The Turkmen newspaper's open letter could be an attempt to demonstrate to the world community that the Turkmen government will not be influenced in what it sees as its rightful investigation of the attack. The letter could also be aimed at convincing Turkmen citizens that the country is coming under undue criticism from foreign groups and countries, a claim the government has made repeatedly over the past several years. (RFE/RL)

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