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Turkmenistan: Niyazov On Rare Two-Day Visit To Moscow

Prague, 10 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin today signed an agreement on cooperation in the natural gas sector over the next 25 years.

The ITAR-TASS news agency reported that the agreement, signed in Moscow, foresees Russian purchases of Turkmen gas, Russian investment in the development of new gas fields in Turkmenistan, and joint efforts to modernize gas transport networks.

The two leaders also signed an agreement on security cooperation and a protocol on ratifying a friendship treaty concluded last year. They canceled a dual citizenship agreement that had been in effect since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The head of Russian gas giant Gazprom, Aleksei Miller, called the agreement a "revolutionary breakthrough in the cooperation of great gas powers." Miller said under the agreement Russia will import 6 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually.

Miller said Russia hopes to raise imports of Turkmen gas to 10 billion cubic meters by 2006 and to 80 billion cubic meters by 2009. He said Gazprom will pay $44 per 1,000 cubic meters in the first three years -- more than the $32 per 1,000 cubic meters Miller's predecessor Rem Vyakhirev offered five years ago. Part will be paid in cash and part in Russian goods.

Niayazov is also reportedly seeking the extradition of two Russian citizens, former Turkmen government officials, who allegedly helped plot the reported assassination attempt on the Turkmen leader last November.

Niyazov reportedly told the Turkmen parliament, prior to his trip, that the suspects, the former Turkmen central bank chief and a former Turkmen ambassador, are living in Russia. Niyazov said he had already spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about their extradition. A Turkmen court has already sentenced both in absentia to life imprisonment.

Niyazov's arrival prompted a protest by about 30 activists outside the Turkmen embassy in Moscow. Demonstrators criticized Russian cooperation with Niyazov, who is accused of human rights abuses in Turkmenistan.

The activists urged the Russian government to reject Niyazov's demands for the extradition of the two alleged conspirators.

There was no word, so far, if Niyazov had meetings scheduled with other Russian government or business officials before he returns to Turkmenistan tomorrow.