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Turkmenistan Prepares For Niyazov's Funeral

Turkmen President Niyazov (file photo) ( December 23, 2006 -- Turkmenistan is preparing for the funeral December 24 of longtime ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, who died two days ago.

Leaders from Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, among others, are expected to attend the funeral in Niyazov's home town of Kipchak.

In the capital, Ashgabat, daily life was on hold ahead of the funeral. Weddings and sports events were canceled, music was banned, and children were forbidden from playing outside.

Meanwhile, acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov dismissed Turkmenistan's parliament speaker, Ovezgeldy Ataev, on December 22 amid growing tension following the Niyazov's death, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

Deputy speaker Akja Nurberdieva was appointed acting speaker. Justice officials have opened a criminal probe into Ataev's activities, amid accusations of abuse of authority and immoral conduct.

Earlier, Berdymukhammedov announced that a date for elections to replace Niyazov will be announced on December 26. Berdymukhammedov said the vote, expected to be held within two months, would be "democratic."

Berdymukhammedov today also assured foreign energy investors that he will honor all existing oil and gas deals.

"Our foreign oil and gas consumers need not worry," he said. "Turkmenistan will strictly abide by all of its obligations and no events can influence our supplies. The government is firmly in control."

Earlier, the European Union urged Turkmenistan to carry out its political transition "in accordance with international standards."

Meanwhile, police have stepped up their presence on the streets of the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, ahead of Niyazov's funeral planned for December 24.

(AP, AFP, Reuters)

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

RFE/RL Central Asia Report

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