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Turkmenistan To Free 1,284 Prisoners In Amnesty

ASHGABAT (Reuters) -- Turkmenistan, a reclusive Central Asian state viewed by the West as a potential source of natural gas, will free 1,284 prisoners including 21 foreigners in a traditional amnesty, state television has reported.

The amnesty, expected in mid-September, is linked to the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr, marked towards the end of Ramadan, state television said.

"Yet another act of pardoning is a tribute to the humane traditions of our ancestors," it said.

Rights groups say Turkmenistan's undisclosed prison population includes political prisoners locked up during the 21-year rule of autocratic leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006.

His successor Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has sought to promote a more liberal image, but human rights campaigners say his reforms have been cosmetic.

Turkmenistan, whose rich natural-gas resources could become an alternative source for supplies to Europe, is now actively courted by Western governments.