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Turkmen Report: November 4, 2000

4 November 2000
Pakistani Leader Makes Unscheduled Stop in Turkmenistan
Monday, November 6, 2000

Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, who is due in Kazakhstan today for a two-day official visit, landed at the airport in the Turkmen capital to refuel his plane.

Musharraf said he was glad for the opportunity to speak with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov even if it happened due to a technical reason. Musharraf and Niyazov, who met the Pakistani leader at the airport, discussed economic cooperation, which included discussion on a Trans-Afghan economic bridge to better link their two countries.

There was no explanation as to why Musharraf chose to land in Turkmenistan, which is not in the direction of the Kazakh capital Astana, where he was expected.

Musharraf is scheduled to meet Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev today for talks on economic cooperation and trade relations. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, TARU Rus. #96 and 107)

Niyazov and Government Mark Health Day
Saturday, November 4, 2000

On November 4, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and the entire Turkmen cabinet took a walk along Serdar Yoly (Leader's Road), which starts on the edge of Ashgabat and runs through some foothills, RFE/RL's correspondent in Ashgabat reported.

The 8-kilometer road was opened on January 2 this year and was initially called Health Path, but later it was renamed as Serdar Yoly. That day Niyazov walked the entire length of the road.

He declared January 2 an annual Health Day, and ordered the road to be extended by 28 kilometers. Today, the president moved Health Day from January 2 to November 4. Starting from the next year, it will be the first Sunday of November.

As RFE/RL�s corespondent in Ashgabat says, the 36-kilometer pedestrian road has become one of the country's attractions. Tourists often visit it and Ashgabat residents stroll along it.

The concrete-surfaced road is 5 meters wide. There are lanterns every 12 meters and several drinking water taps. Some sections are lined with railings. Niyazov is an active champion of a healthy lifestyle. He gave up smoking several years ago. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax)

Delegation in Turkmenistan to Discuss Election Process
Friday, November 3, 2000

Two legal specialists from the United States are in Turkmenistan talking with government officials there about the American election system and the use of the media by candidates.

Federal Claims Court Judge Lawrence Smith and attorney Thomas Sussman met today with representatives from Turkmenistan's Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. The two, sent to Turkmenistan by the U.S. government, discussed the role of the media in American elections, noting that use of the Internet by candidates is a significant factor in campaigning.

On November 2, Smith and Sussman met with members of Turkmenistan's parliament to discuss similar issues.

Turkmenistan has been heavily criticized by international organizations for lack of personal or media freedom. The country has only one registered political party and has restricted access to the Internet. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Islamic Bank Loans To Improve Drinking Water Supply In Turkmenistan
Friday, November 3, 2000

President Saparmurat Niyazov has adopted a resolution on the measures necessary to improve the drinking water supply for the population of (western) Balkan Region.

Accordingly, the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan has been authorized to conclude a financial agreement with the Islamic Development Bank to attract the loans necessary to implement the water distribution project for the Balkan Region. (RFE/RL)

U.S. House Warns Central Asia to Adopt Democracy or Face Risks
Thursday, November 2, 2000

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution urging Central Asian states to allow free multiparty elections or risk instability.

The resolution by the lower chamber warns that attempts by authorities to curb democracy in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan only fuel public discontent and may help fundamentalist Islamic groups gain supporters.

The resolution, passed by a vote of 362 to 3 yesterday, says the leaders of the five Central Asian countries have failed to allow genuine democratic elections as required by their countries' membership in the OSCE -- the Organization for Security and Cooperation In Europe.

In what was seen as the latest setback for democracy in Central Asia, Sunday's presidential election in Kyrgyzstan -- which was won easily by incumbent President Askar Akaev -- was criticized by the OSCE for failing to meet international standards. (RFE/RL, AFP, Reuters,

Turkmen Currency Seven Years Old
Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Seven years has passed since the Turkmen currency, the manat, was released into circulation. As Itar-Tass in Ashgabat informs, the president of Turkmenistan congratulated the bank workers, with the anniversary.

At the first day of manat release into circulation, the exchange rate was two manats for one dollar, but within two weeks the rate started to decrease. In March 1994 one dollar equaled 10 manats, and in September 1995, it was 200 manats.

According to the last official rate, one dollar is exchanged for 5,200 manats, but current non-official rate exceeds 20,000 manats. (RFE/RL, Itar-Tass)

Turkmenistan Turns Gas Back On to Ukraine
Wednesday, November 1, 2000

Officials say Turkmenistan resumed natural gas supplies to Ukraine after getting a $16 million payment up front under an agreement struck last month.

Turkmenistan turned off the gas to Ukraine in May of last year because of unpaid bills. The two countries agreed last month that supplies would resume and that Turkmenistan would supply 5 billion cubic meters of gas this year. Next year, supplies are to increase to 30 billion cubic meters. The deal, signed between Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, requires Ukraine to make weekly advance payments of $7 million in cash and $9 million in goods to ensure payments are made regularly. (RFE/RL, AP)

Turkmenistan, Deutsche Bank Sign Cooperation Deal
Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Investments in the oil and natural gas sector of Turkmenistan are seen as a high priority by the Deutsche Bank, its officials assured President Saparmurat Niyazov during their meeting in Ashgabat on October 30. Both Niyazov and Deutsche Bank board member Tessen von Heidebraek were pleased with the progress achieved by implementing the agreement on cooperation between the German Bank and the government of Turkmenistan signed in 1996. They also approved the signing of a new agreement on continued cooperation. In the framework of this agreement a preliminary credit agreement will be signed. It will provide for a number of investment projects in the oil and gas sector, including the supplies of equipment and provision of services. (RFE/RL, Itar-Tass)

Niyazov Meets the Head of Itera in Ashgabat
Friday, October 27, 2000 President Niyazov met the head of the Itera International Energy Corporation, Igor Makarov on October 27. The talks concentrated on the issues of Turkmen gas supplies to Ukraine and Russia. A deal signed during President Kuchma�s visit to Turkmenistan last October (see "Turkmen Report" from October 6) dealt with exporting 35 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas to Ukraine, with 5 billion cubic meters of it this year. According to Igor Makarov, the contract between Ukraine's Naftohaz Ukrayiny national joint-stock company and Itera to transport Turkmen gas to Ukraine has already been negotiated. (TDH Turkmen State News)

UN Envoy Says Warring Afghan Sides Agree to Peace Dialogue
Friday, November 3, 2000

The UN special envoy for Afghanistan announced on November 3 that the country's two warring sides have pledged in writing to launch a peace dialogue under UN auspices.

Envoy Francesc Vendrell told reporters in New York today he had received separate letters from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime and the opposition United Front committing them to a political settlement of the civil war.

The special envoy says the first talks between the two sides could take place before the end of this month, just prior to the start of the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan. The last round of peace talks, in July 1999 in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, ended without any agreement. (RFE/RL)

U.S. Says Kyrgyz Presidential Poll Not Free and Fair
Thursday, November 2, 2000

The United States said today that last Sunday's presidential poll in Kyrgyzstan failed to meet international standards and was not free and fair. A State Department spokesman said that, in his words, the overall conduct of these elections denied the people of Kyrgyzstan the right to exercise their vote in a free and fair political contest.

The U.S. said it regretted that main opposition leader Feliks Kulov had been barred from the election.

Protest actions have spread all over Kyrgyzstan since the results of the poll have been announced. The U.S. House of Representatives approved on October 1 a resolution urging the five Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to allow free multiparty elections or risk instability by fueling public discontent. (FRE/RL, AFP)

ECO Strives to Improve Transportation and Communication Networks
Thursday, November 2, 2000

Member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) have declared their intention to make improvements in the regional transportation and communications infrastructure, aiming to stimulate economic development. A 10-year improvement plan is in place, but implementation of the 12-point project remains in doubt due in part to political and social instability.

ECO comprises 10 member states, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The group has established an administrative apparatus to promote development. Nevertheless, trade among members has lagged since 1992, when the group expanded from its original three members -- Iran, Pakistan and Turkey -- to include the former Soviet republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

An inadequate regional transport infrastructure has been identified as a major obstacle to trade. Current links among the members are poor, and even existing networks are in disrepair. For example, as much as 60 percent of the road and bridge system in war-ravaged Afghanistan is in need of replacement. Many observers say ECO is unlikely to thrive until a comprehensive infrastructure is in place.

ECO�s vision for the development of transport and communications networks was first outlined in Ashgabat Declaration of 1997, which called for the formation of a permanent commission to oversee infrastructure improvements. The document called for the creation of a network of roads, railways and ports that would make ECO goods easily exportable via shipping hubs in Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.

Subsequently, ECO established a program of action that began in 1998 and runs through 2007. The program outlines 12 objectives to stimulate trade and facilitate the movement of goods from landlocked regions to existing ports. (Eurasia View)

The Politics of Honorifics
Wednesday, November 1, 2000 By Paul Goble, RFE/RL

A decision by a European academic organization to award Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov with an honorary degree for his commitment to democracy calls attention to the ways in which such honorific titles are used and abused on the international scene.

The European Academy of Information Sciences, based in Brussels, last week announced that it would present Niyazov with a grand doctor of philosophy degree for his "significant contribution to the theory and practice of state structures" and his promotion of "democratic regulation of social processes at the turn of the millennium."

This award has raised eyebrows around the world among those who are aware of Niyazov's record as leader of Turkmenistan. Niyazov -- who styles himself as Turkmenbashi or "father of the Turkmen" -- has banned opposition groups, closed the country's academy of sciences, downsized universities, and sought to exercise total control over his society.

Those who are aware of Niyazov's record are now asking themselves how it is possible that any international organization could give him such an award or bring itself to describe him as committed to democratic change.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Organizations from universities and non-governmental organizations to international bodies like the United Nations, regularly hand out such awards to foreign leaders. It is the way in which international business gets done.

From the point of view of the organizations, which make such awards, this practice gains them broader media coverage than they might otherwise receive and even attracts the attention of those to whom they give awards. Indeed, many organizations may give these awards precisely to be in a position to advance their own agendas with those who receive their awards.

And sometimes that strategy works. Some leaders who receive awards actually have tried to live up to the honor they have received, changing their policies or at least becoming more open to the possibility of such changes.

But many recipients regularly abuse this process. And Niyazov's record suggests that he is very likely to do precisely that. Indeed, when he was named an "intellectual genius" by a United Nations body earlier this year, he made sure that the media in Turkmenistan devoted significant attention to that decision.

Moreover, like many of his predecessors, Niyazov appears certain to claim that this award shows that his critics at home and abroad are wrong, that he is in fact the "democratic" leader he regularly proclaims himself to be. And thus he is likely to argue that organizations at home and governments abroad should stop trying to pressure him and his regime to change.

Even more, there is the danger that the Turkmen leader may conclude that he has a free hand and will treat his own population in an even more authoritarian manner. At the very least, he almost certainly will take any future criticism of his actions less seriously than might otherwise have been the case.

But the most significant impact of such awards to those who would not appear to qualify for them lies elsewhere. Such misplaced honors have the effect of draining the meaning of the words like democracy and thus increasing public cynicism about such terms and the principles for which they stand.

In Turkmenistan and more widely, many people are likely to conclude that democracy has no real meaning if Western institutions are prepared to describe him in that way. And if Turkmen and others reach that conclusion, they are likely to be significantly less prepared to work for it.

That in turn almost certainly will reduce the chances for the spread of human freedom not only in Turkmenistan but elsewhere as well. And it also may have the effect of making those in the societies where such awards are given less confident about what their countries stand for and thus less willing to contribute to the growth of democracy in places that have known little of it up to now.

If that happens, the apparently innocent use of such an honorific will tend to undermine not only the level of human freedom today but make it less likely that there will be more freedom in the future.

Incensed Over Election, Kyrgyz Protesters Block Key Road
Wednesday, November 1, 2000

By Bruce Pannier, RFE/RL

Demonstrators have blocked Kyrgyzstan's main highway for a third straight day to protest what they say were unfair elections held Sunday (Oct 29). According to official results, the election resulted in President Askar Akayev easily winning another term in office.

The protests are similar to demonstrations earlier this year after parliamentary elections. And like the parliamentary balloting in February and March, Sunday's presidential election was marked by irregularities and allegations of vote fraud.

Yesterday, some 2,000 demonstrators blocked the main highway linking Bishkek and Osh in the southern Jalalabad Province. Voters say the election results in their district were faked to give Akayev the victory. They say the runner-up in the election, Omurbek Tekebayev, should have been declared the winner in Bazar-Korgon, Tekebayev's native region.

Tekebayev's campaign manager in the region, Sovetbek Artikov, says there were violations even before the polls opened in Bazar-Korgon. "There was early voting in all 17 polling areas. There were 1,604 votes cast before election day. When we demanded to see the voter lists, the local election commission refused", he said.

Artikov also charged that local officials had been given money, some of which, he said, paid for feasts to sway voters to Akayev.

The head of Bazar-Korgon's election commission, Nurmamot Ashimov, denied there were any violations. Ashimov said Tekebayev's supporters should use official channels to voice their complaints. "What Tekebayev's supporters are doing is not right. If they believe there were violations in the election, they should appeal to the election commission. If they have evidence, let them submit it and the matter will be decided fairly. So far, we have not received any complaints", he said

Tekebayev flew to the scene Monday (Oct 30) and asked the crowd to disperse. At first, it did. But when Tekebayev arrived on the scene yesterday (Tuesday), and again asked protestors to leave and allow traffic through, the demonstrators refused. They said they were defending their constitutional right of freedom of choice. Tekebayev asked both the protesters and the authorities to refrain from violent confrontation.

Despite Tekebayev's call, police in the city of Jalalabad, about 25 kilometers from Bazar-Korgon, today forcibly broke up a demonstration. Jalalabad police chief Akjol Kambarov confirmed some of about 200 protesters were arrested but declined to say how many. Kambarov called those arrested "hooligans" who had assaulted police.

The February and March protests over the parliamentary elections were sparked by the surprise defeat of popular politician Feliks Kulov in the Kara-Buura district of Kyrgyzstan's northwestern Talas Province. Protests in Bishkek against the results in Kulov's and other districts -- and over Kulov's subsequent detainment on corruption charges -- lasted over 100 days in Bishkek.

This week's protest is hardly likely to result in an annulment of Sunday's results or the resignation of President Akayev-- both demanded by the demonstrators. But the blocking of the country's key vital north-south route is certain to get the attention of the government. Apart from air travel, the Bishkek-Osh highway is the most reliable route for travel between Bishkek and the country's southern regions, and nearly all agricultural produce from the south reaches the north by this route.

Government officials justify acknowledged imperfections in this year's elections by saying Kyrgyzstan is still learning democracy. They might also take stock of the fact that the country's protest movement seems to be getting better at civil disobedience techniques.

Iran Dispute With Azerbaijan Surfaces
Thursday, November 2, 2000

By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL

An Iranian decision to cut off electric power to Azerbaijan's enclave of Nakhichevan has sparked a sudden eruption of cross-border resentments that are usually kept in check.

An editorial Tuesday by the English-language Iran News, which was cited by the official news agency IRNA, defended the power shutoff on October 27 as economically justified by Nakhichevan's debts. But the paper then proceeded to air a series of complaints against Azerbaijani policies, which it called "devoid of friendship and understanding."

The editorial, which was apparently not made available for transmission abroad on the Iran News website, blasted Baku for a long list of acts that it called hostile to Tehran. Chief among these was Azerbaijan's "belligerent" opposition to an agreement on a legal division of the Caspian Sea.

The paper also charged that Azerbaijan had tried to exclude Iran from its rightful share in a Caspian oil consortium and had opposed a pipeline route through Iranian territory. In addition, Azerbaijan had aligned itself with Israel and taken "ostentatious" pride in the unfriendly act, the paper said. It added that the Azerbaijanis had voiced views which were "infused with their inclination for intervention in other countries' affairs," an apparent reference to the ethnic Azeri population in northern Iran.

The blast raised doubts as to whether the electricity cutoff was really about debt. The Iran News said that the government had repeatedly let debts slip with friendly neighboring countries like Syria, but that it was now time for a "tit for tat" policy with Azerbaijan to "clearly identify the threshold of our tolerance."

The fiery remarks clashed with calmer IRNA reports from Baku on the same day on the presentation of a new Iranian ambassador and a new pact on judicial cooperation.

The issue of the electricity blackout in Nakhichevan was supposed to have been settled in September after Baku averted a threat during the previous month by paying one million dollars on a bill that then amounted to $42 million. Since then, Iranian claims have risen to $45 million despite promises that Azerbaijan would make payments in the form of diesel fuel or gasoline.

The cutoff comes only a week before Azerbaijan's hotly contested parliamentary election, which is set for November 5. Nakhichevan depends on Iran for some 60 percent of its electric power. The enclave is isolated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. Nakhichevan has few financial resources of its own to pay for its power. Energy officials have said that they sell electricity to citizens for about half of its cost from Iran.

The focus on Azerbaijan's policy on dividing the Caspian as a cause of the electricity cutoff seems curious in light of the fact that Russia and Kazakhstan have taken similar stands that are odds with Iran's position. Only Iran and Turkmenistan now seem opposed to Russia's formula for dividing the Caspian seabed into national sectors while keeping the water and its surface in common.

Azerbaijan has also pursued the goal of building the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline to Turkey for at least six years, so that its preference for a non-Iranian route can hardly be considered new. The Iran News editorial makes clear that deep resentments continue over Baku's move in 1995 to cancel an agreement for an Iranian share in the Caspian offshore oilfield known as the "deal of the century."

But aside from the upcoming election, the only new factor seems to be a promised visit to Tehran by Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, which has been postponed several times since last year. Last month, it was cancelled without explanation and no new date set after Aliev's return from the United States.

This week, Azerbaijani officials have gone out of their way to explain publicly to Iranian envoys that Aliyev was under doctors' orders to curtail his travels after coming home from an extended medical stay at a U.S. clinic. It is unclear whether the statements will help to soothe Tehran's anger or restore Nakhichevan's power supply. But it is apparent that many problems linger below the surface between the two countries, waiting for any dispute to bring them out.