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Turkmen Report: May 5, 2003

5 May 2003
Six Turkish Citizens To Face Trial For Alleged Assassination Attempt On Niyazov
2 May 2003

Six Turkish citizens who were arrested in Turkmenistan for alleged involvement in the purported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in November and who were repatriated on 31 March, are being put on trial in Turkey, reported on 2 May, citing the Turkish Anatolia news agency.

The trial reportedly began on 29 April after prosecutor Ali Cengiz Hacioglu of the Istanbul State Security Court completed an investigation of the six people.

Hacioglu has reportedly requested life sentences for them on charges of having attempted to assassinate the head of a foreign state.

Hundreds of people, including a handful of foreigners, have been arrested in Turkmenistan in connection with the alleged assassination attempt. Members of the Turkmen opposition assert that a coup d'etat was intended, not an assassination. (, Anatolia news agency)

Turkmenistan Tightens Traffic Laws
2 May 2003

The Turkmen government has banned smoking and also the use of mobile telephones when driving, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May.

In addition, drivers who have their radios on too loud will be issued a written reprimand. The new traffic rules came into effect on 1 May, the Traffic Police Department of the Turkmen Defense Ministry said.

Special road signs have been introduced, taking into account the specifics of a local territory, such as signs showing a camel or sand dunes. The reason is that camels that often graze in Turkmenistan without a shepherd to supervise them, definitely prefer motorways to deserted paths. And the mounds of sand brought by winds from the Kara-Kum deserts accumulate on highways that connect different parts of the country.

The new traffic regulations stipulate that a driver found in violation of traffic rules must pay a fine within 12 hours. Otherwise, the fine is doubled every 12 hours after the established deadline. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan's Soccer Team Cancels Match In Malaysia Over SARS
1 May 2003

Turkmenistan's soccer federation on 1 May decided not to send its national team to Malaysia for a qualifying match over fears of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), AP reported the same day.

Allaberdy Mamedkuliev, secretary-general of the Turkmen soccer federation, said the decision was made because the federation does not want to endanger the lives of its players.

The team was scheduled to depart for Kuala Lumpur on 30 April, but the Turkmen government cancelled the flight. The move was made despite a risk that the international soccer organization FIFA may impose sanctions against the team for not playing the match, which was awarded as a victory for Malaysia and a loss for Turkmenistan.

SARS, a deadly flu-like illness that has killed more than 350 people worldwide and infected more than 5,300, has killed two people in Malaysia and infected four others. Turkmenistan has no confirmed cases of SARS. (AP)

Moscow Accused Of 'Gas For People' Deal With Turkmenistan
29 April 2003

A leading Russian liberal party, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), on 29 April slammed a 10 April Russian-Turkmen protocol to annul a Russian-Turkmen agreement on dual citizenship, claiming that the new document leads to "the violation of the rights of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan," Interfax reported the same day.

The Russian leadership, in a comment on the protocol, said the majority of those living in Turkmenistan and eligible for Russian citizenship had a chance to choose Russian passports for the past 10 years.

Last week, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov gave Russian-Turkmen citizens two months to choose which citizenship they wanted. There are more than 100,000 people with dual citizenship in Turkmenistan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed "major concern" over Turkmenistan's "unilateral and hasty actions," and the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat was ordered to closely follow the Turkmen government's moves.

The SPS said on 29 April the protocol "has put hundreds of thousands of our compatriots in the position of outcasts, forced to lose their property and leave Turkmenistan."

"With the 'gas for people' bargain, Russia is not only forfeiting its strategic positions in Central Asia, but is also throwing hundreds of thousands of what are now its former citizens to the mercy of the Turkmen authorities, forever shutting the door to Russia to them," the SPS said in a statement signed by its leader and chief parliamentary deputy, Boris Nemtsov.

The statement, made available to Interfax, expressed dissatisfaction with the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry and urged the Russian leadership to take all measures to protect Russian citizens in Turkmenistan. (Interfax)

Hundreds Trying To Escape Turkmenistan Reported On Uzbek Border
29 April 2003

Hundreds of people holding dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship are reported to be gathered on the Uzbek-Turkmen border in an effort to get out of Turkmenistan using their Russian passports as exit documents, Deutsche Welle reported on 29 April. According to the report, Turkmen border guards are not letting them leave. Although President Niyazov has given dual citizens two months to leave if they wish to retain their Russian citizenship, the Turkmen authorities are making departure difficult. Holders of Russian passports must produce a difficult-to-obtain exit visa before they can buy plane tickets. Those who are trying to escape to Uzbekistan hope, according to the report, that they can board trains there for Russia. At present, trains from Uzbekistan to Russia are not stopping in Turkmenistan, even though the rail line from Uzbekistan to Russia passes through Turkmenistan. (Deutsche Welle)

Russians In Turkmenistan Pack Their Bags As Dual Citizenship Nears End
28 April 2003

By Farangis Najibullah

Prices for apartments and houses in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat are falling rapidly. An apartment that would have cost $9,000 a month ago now goes for less than $3,000.

The prices are dropping as thousands of Russian speakers quickly sell off their property in order to leave the country in line with a new presidential decree abolishing dual citizenship. Residents who hold both Turkmen and Russian citizenship have been given two months to choose one or the other. If a person cannot meet the deadline, he or she automatically becomes a Turkmen citizen.

Around 100,000 Russian speakers are believed to hold dual citizenship. The decree -- signed only last week and with a relatively tight deadline -- caught many by surprise. Russian speakers gathered around the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat say they are left with almost no time to decide about their future: "How can we make such a crucial decision in a matter of one and half months? We have families, homes here, we cannot just drop everything and leave with a rucksack.

"My mother lives here, and my children live there in Russia. My mother is very ill. What should I do?" Vyacheslav Mamedov, the head of "Flamingo," a nongovernmental organization in the town of Krasnovodsk, told RFE/RL that the situation is the same in other cities: "The reaction of the Russian-speaking population is very, very negative. Many people are gathering at the Russian Consulate here in Krasnovodsk. They want an explanation of the decree that was signed by President [Saparmurat] Niyazov, the Turkmenbashi, on 22 April." The decree follows a reported agreement between Turkmen President Niyazov and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 10 April. It would revoke a dual citizenship agreement signed in 1993.

Niyazov's motive for issuing the decree is not clear, but Russian newspapers speculate officials in Moscow agreed to it as a condition for being allowed to buy Turkmen gas. Moscow has been trying for years to obtain a long-term gas contract with Ashgabat. Russia, for its part, says the Turkmen decree will not become valid until the Russian parliament formally abolishes the dual-citizenship agreement. The Turkmen parliament has already ratified a protocol revoking dual citizenship. Foreign observers say the Turkmen action may be connected to a wider campaign to clamp down on foreigners following a purported assassination plot against Niyazov last November.

Since then, some 60 Turkmen citizens have been sentenced to long terms in jail. Turkmenistan has also appealed to the Russian and Swedish governments to hand over Turkmen citizens who, according to Ashgabat, were involved in the assassination bid. Erika Dailey, the director of the Turkmen Project at the Open Society Institute, based in Budapest, explained the link: "The people who are alleged to have been behind an assassination attempt on Niyazov in November 2002, some of them were dual citizens. Some of them had foreign passports; they were Turks, Georgians, U.S. citizens, Russian citizens, etc. They remain beyond the grasp of Turkmen authorities. [Abolition of dual citizenship] would provide the basis for weakening any Russian resistance to an extradition request."

The decree is only the latest in a series of measures to rein in foreigners. In February the Turkmen government set up a special state service to register foreigners traveling to and from Turkmenistan.

A special resolution on Turkmen citizens studying abroad was adopted at about the same time. According to the resolution, Turkmen students studying in foreign countries at their own initiative -- without permission from Turkmen ministries -- were forbidden from purchasing foreign currency from the Turkmen central bank at subsidized rates.

Russian media say many teachers who graduated from foreign universities have now been fired from schools throughout Turkmenistan. Those who want to retain their jobs must first pass a test on the "Rukhnama" -- Niyazov's book on Turkmen history and culture. (RFE/RL)