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Turkmenistan: President Sacks Deputy Prime Minister

Ashgabat, 7 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed one of his deputy prime ministers. A government spokesman said late yesterday that Niyazov fired Seyitbay Gandymov, who also was removed from his position as central bank chairman.

Niyazov accused Gandymov of "serious shortcomings in his work." Niyazov appointed Economy and Finance Minister Enebay Ataeva as deputy prime minister to replace Gandymov. No new central bank chairman has yet been appointed.

Niyazov fired a host of ministers and top officials last month. Separately, a U.S. advisory panel is urging the U.S. government to designate Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia as gross violators of religious freedoms and impose sanctions against them.

The recommendations are contained in an annual report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the government on a wide range of international and humanitarian policy issues. The report, released overnight, says religious freedoms in Turkmenistan are "very poor and deteriorating." It said Saudi Arabia's monarchy "vigorously" prohibits all forms of public religious expression not part of the government's interpretation of Islam. The report says Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia should be designated "countries of particular concern." If the U.S. government accepts the designations, the two countries would be automatically sanctioned under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

The State Department has agreed with the advisory panel on sanctions against six countries -- including China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Myanmar, and Sudan.