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Protesters Occupy Turkmen Embassy In Paris

Ogulsapar Muradova in 2004

Ogulsapar Muradova in 2004

PARIS -- About 20 human rights protesters have left the Turkmen Embassy in Paris after occupying it to protest the lack of media freedom in the Central Asian state.

The activists were led by Robert Menard, the founder of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The protesters handed over a petition demanding an investigation into the death in prison in 2006 of Ogulsapar Muradova, an activist and RFE/RL correspondent, as well as the release of Annakurban Amakhytchev and Sapardurdy Khajiev, two other activists who were arrested and jailed around the same time as Muradova.

RSF members also carried photographs of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and Foreign Minister Rachid Meredov stamped with the word "Predator."

Turkmen officials refused a demand by protesters to speak with the Turkmen ambassador to France.

Menard said he had personally called French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who promised to raise the issue of press freedom in Turkmenistan with Meredov, who is in Paris for an EU-Central Asia summit.

About 60 French police arrived and sealed off the quiet residential street on which the Turkmen Embassy is located, but told Turkmen officials that they could not enter the building as it is legally Turkmen sovereign territory.

French diplomatic security officers then began negotiations with the protesters to end the standoff.

-- Ahto Lobjakas