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Turkmen Report: May 17, 2004

17 May 2004
Turkmen President Eases Restrictions On Religious Groups
14 May 2004

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree on 13 May abolishing jail terms and hard labor for members of unrecognized religious groups in the country, AP and Reuters reported the next day.

Turkmenistan recognizes only state-sponsored Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox confessions. Members of other groups previously faced sentences of up to two years hard labor or one year in jail.

Niyazov's move came a day after the publication of a critical report on religious persecution in Turkmenistan by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. (AP, Reuters)

Turkmenistan Bans Child Labor For Picking Cotton
14 May 2004

Turkmenistan has announced a ban on child labor in the cotton industry, AP reported on 14 May.

President Niyazov announced this week that the government is forbidding the use of schoolchildren to help in cotton cultivation and harvesting.

Schoolchildren in the country are regularly sent from classes to work in the cotton fields, are often housed in poor conditions, and are paid little or nothing. Turkmenistan is the world's seventh-largest cotton producer. (AP)

Folkestone Starts Building Cotton Factory In Turkmenistan
13 May 2004

Folkestone Holding, registered in the British Virgin Islands, started building a cotton factory in Abadan, near Ashgabat, on 13 May, Interfax reported the same day, citing a source in the Turkmen Textile Industry Ministry.

The project is reportedly worth $132 million. The factory will produce 25,300 tons of cotton yarn annually. The Textile Industry Ministry and Folkestone have set up a joint venture to implement the project. Turkmenistan has a 69 percent interest in the joint venture's charter capital, and Folkestone has 31 percent. The factory will be commissioned in October of 2005. Ministry specialists expect building costs to be repaid in 4 1/2 years.

The factory, which will use European and Japanese equipment, will process 29,000 tons of cotton fiber a year after it reaches its rated capacity. (Interfax)

U.S. Commission Identifies Violators Of Religious Freedom
12 May 2004

A semi-official U.S. commission on 12 May called on the government to include India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam in a state list of violators of religious freedom, AFP reported the same day. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom also named Turkmenistan as a "country of particular concern." Other countries singled out for "particular concern" or named for lesser violations of religious rights included Belarus, China, Georgia, Iran, North Korea, and Uzbekistan.

The commission said Iraq could be removed from the list, as it was satisfied with the religious-freedom policy implemented after the fall of President Saddam Hussein.

The commission also called on France to reassess its new law banning religious clothing in schools, including Muslim head scarves. The panel's report is intended to guide the secretary of state in making determinations on the status of freedom of religion around the globe. (AFP)