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Turkmen Report: July 29, 2002

29 July 2002
Britain To Help Build Customs Post On Turkmen-Afghan Border

26 July 2002

Great Britain will provide $500,000 to build a customs terminal on Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan, AFP reported on 26 July, citing sources in Ashgabat.

According to the state-run "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" newspaper, the British government offered to provide $500,000 worth of aid to build an inspection terminal at the Serkhetabat border crossing on the Turkmen-Afghan frontier. Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan runs for more than 1,200 kilometers -- an often-porous stretch that is viewed as a key trafficking route for drugs. (AFP)

Turkmenistan To Develop Cooperation With Caterpillar

25 July 2002

Managers of the Turkmen power and agribusiness sectors have held negotiations with a delegation from the U.S. machine maker Caterpillar, led by its President Vito H. Baumgartner, Interfax reported on 25 July citing the Turkmen presidential international information department.

The delegation's intent was to study opportunities for establishing long-term cooperation with Turkmenistan in supplying it with industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment and establishing a service network and personnel training centers.

During the talks, the Turkmen representatives suggested developing cooperation in road construction, land improvement, the fuel and energy sector, and agriculture. The negotiators agreed to set up a joint working group to draw up a draft agreement on cooperation. (Interfax)

Turkmenistan Still Hesitant Over Eurasian Gas Alliance

23 July 2002

The Turkmen government has not yet reached a formal decision on whether to join the Eurasian alliance of gas producers proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin early this year, Interfax reported on 23 July, quoting a Turkmen government statement.

"We will engage in bilateral trade until the goals of the gas alliance are determined, and markets, prices, and other parameters are agreed upon," the Turkmen government said in a communique circulated on 23 July.

"The Turkmen leaders believe that a number of issues have yet to be settled, and those issues will ultimately determine whether or not Turkmenistan will join an agreement on the gas alliance. To this day, the status of countries producing and transporting natural gas has not been defined," the Turkmen government added. (Interfax)

Duties Of Turkmen Security Agencies To Be Redefined

22 July 2002

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced at a meeting of heads of law enforcement agencies held on 22 July, that next month's session of the People's Council will adopt a decree redefining the rights and duties of the Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry, National Security Committee, Supreme Court, and the Prosecutor-General's Office, Interfax and reported.

Niyazov said that measure is necessary in order to ensure that such agencies are staffed by honest individuals. Dozens of National Security Ministry officials have been fired in recent months for abuse of office and crimes including murder and drug trafficking. The defense minister has also been replaced. (Interfax,

Niyazov Announces Crackdown On Cable TV

22 July 2002

Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered more stringent controls on broadcasting by Russian cable channels, one of the few uncensored sources of information to which Turkmenistan's population still has access, Reuters and Interfax reported.

He noted that the state cannot control the content of such broadcasts and derives no profit from them. "The government now has no information about these channels, is not getting income from them, and has no control over them," Niyazov said at a meeting with the heads of the country's law enforcement bodies on 22 July.

Niyazov also criticized as deceptive many advertisements aired by Turkmen state television and ordered the creation of an independent commission to monitor such advertising. (Reuters, Interfax)

Turkmen President Visits Building Site Of Huge Mosque

22 July 2002

President Niyazov on 22 July visited the building site of an 80-meter-high, 7,000-square-meter mosque that Turkmenistan says will be one of the world's largest, AP reported the same day. The site is in the village of Kipchak, Niyazov's ancestral home, near the capital Ashgabat.

At the site, Niyazov said that his country, "as a strong, prosperous state," is devoted to constructing beautiful palaces and buildings. To be completed in October 2004, the Kipchak mosque is to cost $86 million to build. The president said the mosque symbolizes the Turkmen people's awe of Allah. Turkmenistan has rich deposits of natural gas but much of the population remains impoverished. (AP)

Turkmen Musicians Participate In Folk Festival In U.S.

22 July 2002

Three Turkmen musicians took part in a folk festival dedicated to the culture of the Silk Road countries at the U.S. Smithsonian Institute, reported on 22 July.

The Washington audience were introduced with national Turkmen melodies -- from ancient destans to modern songs created during the years of independence. The "Silk Road: Ties of Cultures and Trust Building" festival gathered some 400 participants from 25 states to present their national dances, songs, and crafts. The main goal of the festival was an international exchange in the sphere of culture, trade, music, and cookery.

The U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat sponsored the participation of the Turkmen trio in the festival. (

Turkmen President Takes New Interest in Satellite Television

25 July 2002

By Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan is taking new steps to limit the amount of information coming into the country from the outside world. President Saparmurat Niyazov said this week that law enforcement agencies need to work toward shutting down what Niyazov said were "illegal" cable hook-ups. Niyazov also said satellite dishes on rooftops in the capital Ashgabat make the city look ugly and ordered they be removed.

The satellite dishes are what is bringing in the "cable" television. Turkmenistan has already taken a number of measures to ensure the only information available to the people is that coming from state-owned media outlets. This latest action only provides more evidence of this trend.

Niyazov's sudden interest in Russian cable television started last month. At a meeting of the cabinet he told law enforcement officials to pay extra attention to cable television: "They told me about cable television. It is operating in Akhal, Mari, and Lebap [oblasts]. People are making money on cable television. People want to get a lot of television channels and many want to have more information [about the world]. This is not forbidden. But local, regional and provincial authorities and law enforcement agencies should in no way allow violations of the law."

What actually appears to be happening is that some people in Turkmenistan have acquired satellite dishes and installed them on the roofs of their apartment buildings. They then connect others in the same building to the satellite dish, and the 13 channels it receives, for a reported monthly fee of 50,000 manat ($2).

Niyazov confirmed this at the cabinet meeting. "To bring an antenna and agree with residents to connect them to the cable and get money is against the law. If this continues, tomorrow they [the people] will do whatever they want."

While Niyazov may turn to the legal code in ordering the police, Interior Ministry, and Committee for National Security to crack down on these illegal connections, he is also quoted by Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency as saying this week that Russian programming received via satellite dishes has a "biased opinion of life in Turkmenistan which misrepresents reality."

Niyazov may have also seen or heard of the report the BBC ran on his country in June. The reporter, while showing the bright gold statues of Niyazov that abound in Ashgabat, noted that the people seemed poor and a lot of money seemed to be spent on glorifying the Turkmen president. One tourist interviewed during the report, which noted there were very few tourists in Ashgabat, said the capital looked like "Stalin Vegas."

But Niyazov dismisses such criticism from foreign media sources as biased against Turkmenistan. Earlier this month he offered his own solution to the people's hunger for information from outside sources. "They [foreign media sources] don't understand what we are doing, how we work, how we live. So I decided to form a service, under the president, for foreign news. We will work with news from outside Turkmenistan. This service will give information to foreign media and receive information from outside the country about what they write about Turkmenistan. The head of this will be Serdar Durdiev and the service will have [a staff of] five people."

As a result, the state newspapers "Turkmenistan" and "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" are now running censored versions of foreign media reports about Turkmenistan. There are reports from the British news agencies Reuters and BBC, Russia's ITAR-TASS, RIA-Novosti, and Interfax news agencies and Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service. The reports used are limited to natural-gas deals, grain harvests, trade, and Niyazov's phone conversations with world leaders. All the reports dealing with grain, gas exports, or trade give figures originally provided by Turkmen authorities.

The report from Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service which appeared in the 19 July edition of "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan" provides 30 words from a 90-second report on a cabinet meeting and simply says Niyazov asked the ministers and heads of media not to use his name so often in their reports. The summary failed to mention that the meeting then went on to discuss ways to work the Turkmen president's favored topics into the press without actually mentioning him personally.

Since gaining independence in 1991, Turkmenistan has run Russian programming but with a 24-hour delay, so censors could review the material. The satellite dishes that have sprung up in Turkmenistan have allowed some in urban areas to avoid the censor. Rural areas do not have satellite dishes -- they are simply too expensive for those who work the land for a living.

Turkmenistan has already restricted Internet access by making the Ministry of Communication the only licensed Internet provider. Foreign newspapers had been banned during much of the country's independence, but recently some have become available at the five-star hotels in Ashgabat that cater to foreigners. There are still checks at entry points into the country where written material is scanned and confiscated if it seems potentially damaging to the government. Now access to information via satellite appears to be on the way out also. (RFE/RL)