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Turkmen Report: February 17, 2004

17 February 2004
Amnesty International Says Critic Of Turkmen Government In Psychiatric Clinic
The international human rights organization Amnesty International released a statement on 13 February expressing concern about the fate of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, a critic of the Turkmen government, RFE/RL reported the same day. The statement said Durdykuliev was taken from his home in the village of Suvchy, in western Turkmenistan's Balkan province, by several people "in white coats" on 10 February. The statement said Durdykuliev, 65, is now reportedly in a psychiatric hospital in the town of Nebitdag. Amnesty said Durdykuliev sent a letter last month to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and the governor of the Balkan province asking permission to organize a two-day demonstration to express disagreement with the policies of the president and other senior government officials. Amnesty and other human rights groups have documented numerous cases of opponents of the Turkmen government being imprisoned, forcibly placed in psychiatric clinics or chased into exile abroad. (Amnesty International, RFE/RL)

Turkmen Satellite TV Set Up To Boost Country's Image Abroad
President Niyazov has announced his country will start a satellite television channel to boost the country's image abroad, AP reported on 13 February. Niyazov was quoted as saying "the world knows little about what is happening in Turkmenistan," and that the station will show the country is changing and making improvements. Turkmenistan is well known to international human rights and press freedom organizations, who routinely brand the isolationist state as one of the most repressive governments in the world. Niyazov -- known as "Turkmenbashi" -- has firm control of the country. There are no independent media outlets in Turkmenistan, and only one officially registered political party -- the party Niyazov leads. Niyazov said some $14 million has been set aside for the satellite television channel, which he says will broadcast in English, French, Russian, Persian, and Chinese. (AP)

Turkmen President Abolishes Free Universal Health Care
President Niyazov on 11 February published a decree that effectively eliminates free universal health care in Turkmenistan, AFP and RTR reported the same day. The president's decree says the measures "are aimed at economizing budget resources, increasing a results-oriented approach among medical institutions and to guarantee the effective use of personnel." The decree calls for the sacking of some 15,000 nurses and hospital staff this month, and abolishes many free medical services. Reuters quoted Turkmen Health Ministry officials as saying the sacked staff --about 15 percent of health care workers in the country -- will be replaced by conscripted soldiers. Areas losing funding include cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurology, and dermatology departments, as well as diagnostic services. The decree says the government will continue to fund emergency and maternity wards, and will also continue to provide free care for invalids and the chronically or terminally ill. (AFP, RTR, Reuters)

Niyazov Turns Down Invitation To Join CIS Power Grid
President Niyazov has turned down an invitation from CIS Energy Council head Anatolii Chubais to join the CIS power grid, ITAR-TASS and reported on 11 February. In his reply to Chubais, Niyazov pointed out that Turkmenistan refused to join the common CIS system once before because other members of the grid were unable to pay their debts and because of other technical and accounting problems. In recent years, Turkmenistan has sold electricity to non-CIS states, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. (ITAR-TASS,

Massive Water Park To Be Built In Ashgabat
Three Turkish and one Ukrainian company will build a water park in Turkmenistan in the next two years under a decree signed by President Niyazov on 10 February, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Resources from the state and a Turkmen foreign currency fund will be used for the $6.3 million project. The water park will cover an area of 3 kilometers and most of it will be located in the territory of a future theme park, complete with an oceanarium. President Niyazov, who is a renowned town-planner in Turkmenistan, has launched the projects. Under Niyazov direction, administrative and entertainment centers in Ashgabat have been surrounded by cascades of fountains. The Karakum Canal, built during the Soviet era, is the main water source for the Turkmen capital. It carries water from the Amu Darya River to the central and western parts of Turkmenistan. (ITAR-TASS)

Iran Holds Caspian Talks With Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan
Iran is holding bilateral talks with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the division of the Caspian Sea, Iranian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Murtazo Saffori said at a press conference in Almaty on 10 February, Interfax reported the same day. "We are holding talks with our neighbors to reach consensus and mutual understanding as soon as possible, just like Kazakhstan, Russia, and Azerbaijan have achieved certain successes," he said. The ambassador said that a final decision on the legal status of the Caspian Sea may be reached only taking into consideration the opinion of all five Caspian states, and he said that he hopes that talks involving all of the states will have "good results." Speaking about the Iranian position on the division of the Caspian, Saffori said that "in accordance with existing geographical conditions, Iran is laying claim to about a 20 percent share of the sea." The diplomat said that Iran has never insisted on the equal division of the sea between all five states, which would give each state a 20 percent share. (Interfax)