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Turkmenistan: President Reshuffles Government Once Again

President Niyazov (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 23 January (AFP) Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov returned from Moscow earlier this week and fell into a familiar habit – dismissing officials who, he claimed, were found to be engaging in corrupt practices. During a marathon five-hour speech at a session of the cabinet on 25 January, Niyazov sacked the agriculture minister, the governor of the northern Dashoguz province and the head of the state fishing committee.

PRAGUE, 26 January 2006 -- As usual, there was no explanation why Niyazov chose that particular moment for the dismissals but the Turkmen president, as usual, gave many reasons for the sackings.

Addressing Agriculture Minister Begench Atamyradov, Niyazov said: "The minister of agriculture, Begench [Atamyradov], you have been working for a long time. I appointed you [my] deputy. Why don't you manage your work better? You never come to the president to solve any problem. I am relieving you from the post of minister. You [and your people] were selling the white wheat of Dashoguz and Kone Organch in other provinces at higher prices. There is no limit to your misdeeds."

"The job security for ministers and other officials is nil. And they all serve at his discretion and his discretion is exercised quite heavily and quite often."

Standard Procedure

Agriculture ministers traditionally have a difficult task in Turkmenistan. Niyazov sets target figures for grain and cotton for his country every year. And every year he demands new record harvests in his country, which is nearly 90 percent covered by desert. That still may not explain how an agricultural minister can be fired in the winter when there is nearly no agricultural activity.

The charges against Dashoguz Governor Kakamyrat Annagylyjov seemed more serious. Niyazov said sternly: "[Kakamyrat Annagylyjov] took an oath to work properly and solve all problems. But the result of his work in the short period of a year is that he replaced employees of institutions beneficial [to people] with his own people [in the region], he took bribes, he engaged in a lot of corrupt practices. He has many wives. These misdeeds did not start [after his appointment], they came from the past, but we didn't investigate them properly."

Niyazov accused Annagylyjov of having four wives, 20 cars, 275 sheep, 55 cows and stealing $2.4 million of state money. Niyazov also took the occasion to inform Annagylyjov that criminal charges were already being prepared against him. The fate of the former Dashoguz governor is sealed as Turkmen officials accused of corruption by Niyazov rarely avoid paying a hefty fine and often receive a jail sentence as well.

Steven Sabol is a professor at the University of North Carolina who specializes in Turkmenistan. He said such dismissals are common in Niyazov's government.

"[These dismissals have] been a recurrent pattern in Niyazov's governing style for several years now," Sabol said. "The job security for ministers and other officials is nil. And they all serve at his discretion and his discretion is exercised quite heavily and quite often."

Not At Moscow's Request?

But Sabol saw no link between Niyazov's visit to Moscow earlier this week and the sudden decision to reshuffle some government posts.

"Given that he also seems to enjoy acting independently of any outside influence, I don't know that I could make the connection just yet," he said.

The man replacing Annagylyjov is Aganiyaz Akyev, once Niyazov's bodyguard. Akyev was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) affairs in August. Two weeks later he was at the informal CIS summit in Kazan to announce to the leaders gathered there that Turkmenistan was lowering its status in the CIS to "associate" member.

Niyazov also shifted officials around, appointing a new education minister, a new head for the state customs service, and a new head for the state fishing committee.

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