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Turkmen Report: February 24, 2002

24 February 2002
Afghan Leader To Visit Turkmenistan On 6-7 March

21 February 2002

Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai will visit Turkmenistan in early March to discuss projects on exporting Turkmen gas and electricity to the war-torn Afghanistan, Afghan embassy officials said.

Turkmen President Niyazov had offered "to share Turkmenistan's energy riches with the friendly Afghan people" during his meeting with the Afghan interim government's water and energy minister Mohammad Shaker Kargar last week, but no details on the volumes of gas and power to be exported were specified. (AFP)

Former Turkmen Deputy PM Joins Opposition To President Niyazov

18 February 2002

Turkmenistan's former deputy prime minister Khudaiberdi Orazov said on 18 February he was joining the ranks of the opposition to President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Orazov, who was released from his duties several months ago, told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that he could no longer work with Niyazov whom he accused of being an obstacle to reforms.

During his tenure as deputy prime minister, Orazov oversaw the economy and finance sectors. Prior to this, he chaired Turkmenistan's Central Bank.

Orazov is believed to be close to former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who now lives in exile in Russia. Orazov left Turkmenistan several weeks ago.

Orazov said Niyazov's usual practice in dealing with his opponents was to humiliate and subdue them and then ostensibly rehabilitate them.

"That is why I said to myself (after leaving prison): Enough is enough, time to get out of here," he said.

Turkmen authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Shikhmuradov and demanded that Moscow hand him over. Russia has not commented publicly on the extradition request. (RFE/RL Turkmen Svc)

Turkmens At Age Of 62 Get Gash To Sacrifice Ram

19 February 2002

Turkmenistan's flamboyant leader Saparmurat Niyazov decreed on 19 February all countrymen who reached 62 years of age would get a holiday and bonus pay for a sacrificial feast to honor the age at which the Prophet Mohammad died.

"The rite of reaching the age of the prophet was revived in Turkmenistan..." the official Turkmen Habarlary news agency said on the day of Niyazov's own 62nd birthday.

Every citizen reaching 62 will be entitled to three days paid leave and a bonus worth his monthly wage to enable him to host a feast and sacrifice a white ram in line with ancient traditions.

Niyazov, whose birthday is also the National Flag Day, launched the tradition by inviting more than 15,000 guests to dine at his luxurious residence near the capital. (RFE/RL Turkmen Svc, Reuters, AP)

Turkmen Opposition Leader Calls Government 'As Dangerous as Taliban'

18 February 2002

A Turkmen opposition figure living in exile says the government of President Niyazov is "as dangerous as that of the Taliban."

On a visit to Paris, former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov told the AFP news agency that the Turkmen government has arrested 300 opposition members in the past few weeks. He said the detainees are tortured in prison.

President Niyazov is seeking the extradition of two exiles, Shikhmuradov and ex-ambassador to Turkey Nurmukhammed Khanamov, who have strongly criticized his regime. Turkmen officials accuse the two of embezzling state property and abuse of power. (RFE/RL)

Uzbek And Turkmen Get Life For Murder In Dubai

18 February 2002

A Dubai court has sentenced two men from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to life in prison for the murder of a Turkmen woman, a newspaper reported on 18 February.

Gulzada Eminova, a 24-year-old Turkmen national, tumbled to her death from a seventh-floor apartment balcony in a dispute with Uzbek Kherideen S., 44, over money she owed fellow Turkmen and former flatmate O.M. Arsalan, 25, Khaleej Times said.

In a separate case, two Nigerians identified as Edo A., 31 and Ijaja W.J., 36, were also sentenced to life in prison after being caught in a police sting trying to sell marijuana worth 5,500 dollars. (AFP)

Turkmen President Pushes For Extradition Of Opposition Leaders

14 February 2002

The president of Turkmenistan said Russia should extradite a former top official accused of corruption, the presidential press service said Thursday, increasing the pressure on Moscow to turn over one of the president's few political opponents.

Authorities launched a criminal case against former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov last June and he was relieved of his post of ambassador to China in October. A month later, prosecutors announced that they had issued a search and arrest warrant for Shikhmuradov, who is believed to be in Russia.

In a November interview with Russian media, Shikhmuradov accused President Saparmurat Niyazov of isolating the Central Asian nation, turning it into a police state and directly participating in crimes ranging from human rights violations to drug dealing and corruption.

Niyazov made his extradition call after hearing a report by top law enforcement officers earlier this week. Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atadzhanova said that Shikhmuradov had misappropriated USD 25.27 million of state funds in May 1994, when he allegedly sold five Su-17 planes to Russia, and that he took part in the theft of 9,000 AKS-74 automatic rifles and ammunition worth USD 2.5 million in October of the same year.

Niyazov also called on Russia to extradite Turkmenistan's former ambassador to Turkey and Israel, Nurmukhammed Khanamov. National Security Committee Chairman Mukhammed Nazarov said that the investigation into the former ambassador's case was still in progress, but that there was evidence he had stolen state property, including through shell companies.

Like Shikhmuradov, Khanamov has joined the small Turkmen opposition in exile.

Last November, Ashgabat issued an arrest warrant for Shikhmuradov and demanded that Russia hand him over after the ex-minister announced he was joining the opposition and publicly voiced harsh criticism of Niyazov.

Shikhmuradov, a former Soviet diplomat and graduate of Moscow State University, retains close ties with Russia, which has not commented publicly on the extradition request.

Late on 12 February, Turkmen state television showed Niyazov ordering his government to step up pressure on Moscow to broker the extradition of the two outspoken opponents.

"Summon both Khanamov and Shikhmuradov through Russia's prosecutor-general's office," Niyazov said. "Let them prove their innocence. We are for a just solution."

The muzzled Turkmen official media wrote last year that, while in office, Shikhmuradov had misappropriated state funds worth $28 million and stolen and resold a mass of state property including jet fighters, firearms and ammunition.

"There is abundant evidence proving Khanamov's guilt," Mukhammed Nazarov, head of the Central Asian state's post-KGB National Security Committee, told the same meeting.

Shikhmuradov, who served as foreign minister for eight years and then ambassador to China before he was sacked last October, lambasted Niyazov for creating a closed police state with widespread corruption and a lack of elementary freedoms.

Khanamov said in an interview with Russian media last week that Turkmenistan needed fast democratization and liberal economic reforms.

The black market thrives in Turkmenistan where street traders snap up the dollar at a price almost four times higher than the official rate of 5,200 manats.

While the country's budget is seriously in deficit, the central bank has been printing extra banknotes to make interest-free loans to the government. (RFE/RL, AFP, AP, Reuters)

100 Opposition Members Arrested In Turkmenistan: Ex-FM

13 February 2002

More than 100 members of the political opposition to all-powerful ruler Saparmurat Niyazov have been arrested in the central Asian republic of Turkmenistan, the country's former foreign minister reported on 13 February.

Boris Shikhmuradov told the Russian newspaper Izvestia the autocratic Niyazov had become aware of a coming crisis in the country.

"He is trying to prevent it by using police methods," Shikhmuradov said: "More than 100 members of the opposition have been arrested during the past week."

Turkmenistan, a former Soviet constituent republic, is a politically isolated state under the rule of the unpredictable Niyazov, who has developed a cult of personality around himself, styling himself Guide of the Turkmen People and controlling all sectors of power and the media.

Critics at home and abroad have repeatedly accused his regime of human rights abuses.

But Shikhmuradov said the political opposition was now demanding a new presidential election this year under the terms of the country's Constitution.

"The election will have to be held under the strict supervision of the pan-European Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international organizations," he told Izvestia.

In December Shikhmuradov charged that Niyazov had ordered the killing of political prisoners between 1993 and 1997, fixed elections and siphoned off huge sums of money from the state coffers.

Niyazov had ordered the politically motivated killings of both Turkmen and foreign prisoners held in the country's jails, Shikhmuradov then told the Russian newspaper Vremia Novostei.

The former minister said a file on the alleged crimes had been drawn up for the OSCE. (AFP)

Turkmen Army To Tend Cattle, study moral guide

12 February 2002

Turkmen President Niyazov has come up with a novel way of forming a perfect soldier: train half the day, then tend cattle, grow cotton and finally peruse a moral code penned by the president.

"Apart from combat training, the army must be capable of growing cotton and tending cattle," Niyazov said in remarks broadcast by state television on 12 February.

"Let soldiers study Rukhnama (moral code) and watch television in the evening."

Niyazov, who enjoys unlimited powers and bears the official title of Turkmenbashi or Head of the Turkmen, presented his Rukhnama with much pomp last year. He called it a spiritual guide for his people, but denied it was meant to be compared with the Bible or the Koran.

Niyazov exhorted officials to fight draft dodging and said compulsory farm labor would ensure food self-sufficiency for the hard-up army. One exemplary military unit is already growing cotton, rice and wheat, while another plans to start a fishery. (Reuters)

Turkmen President Hopes To Revive Trans-Afghan Gas Project

8 February 2002

Turkmen President Niyazov said on 8 February he hopes peace in neighboring Afghanistan would allow work to resume on a natural gas pipeline to connect his country to Pakistan.

Niyazov spoke during a visit in the eastern Mary region, where he inaugurated a gas compressor station.

A consortium led by U.S. Unocal company has originally aimed to build a 1.900-million dollar pipeline to export some of Turkmenistan's natural gas reserves to Pakistan via northern Afghanistan. But in 1998 the company halted development of the project after U.S. missiles bombed guerilla camps in Afghanistan.

Niyazov has recently discussed plans to revive the pipeline with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones. (RFE/RL Turkmen Svc)

Turkmen Diplomats' Defection Seen as Challenge to Niyazov

15 February 2002

By Bruce Pannier

Turkmenistan is trying to have two former ambassadors -- and now opposition leaders � extradited home from Russia.

The move is being seen as a sign the Turkmen government considers the recent defections of the two and one other individual to be the most serious challenge to the country's one-party system since 1991 independence.

Other government officials have departed the country before, and soon afterward declared themselves to be in opposition to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and his regime. But the timing of the recent defections -- three in three months -- is likely seen as particularly disturbing.

The Turkmen president's press service confirmed Thursday that a request was made of Russian authorities to extradite the former Turkmen ambassador to Turkey, Nurmuhammed Khanamov, and former Foreign Minister, more recently ambassador to China, Boris Shikhmuradov. Both are wanted for crimes connected with what the Turkmen Prosecutor General says were the illegal sales of arms.

Neither man was officially charged until he publicly declared his opposition to the government. Shikhmuradov announced his opposition in November, Khanamov last week. Turkmen ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Pirmuhammed Gurbanov, also recently announced his opposition to the government back home.

Khanamov's announcement was clear.

"I declare that I resign from the post of Turkmenistan's ambassador to Turkey and promise to fight this regime with all possible means."

President Niyazov shrugged off Khanamov's statement on national television earlier this week.

"They (eds: the opposition) were more numerous in 1990s, in 1991. They all have taken their due place (right order) in society. Recently, after Shikhmuradov and another fool, a drug addict as they call him, Khanamov, the talk (about opposition) re-emerged."

However, Shikhmuradov said in an interview published by the Russian daily newspaper "Izvestiya" on Wednesday that he and other representatives of what he termed the country's "elite" are meeting with officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in an attempt to have that organization suspend Turkmenistan's OSCE membership. Shikhmuradov told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service he has support of some from within the Turkmen government for a change in the system as well.

"Quite a number of people very close to Niyazov are ready to work with us and they declared that they plan to get rid of their responsibilities within the framework of Niyazov's government. We are in direct contact with Turkmenistan. We will do our utmost to bring these changes as quickly as possible, but not earlier than spring. By spring we will be ready to go back to our country."

Presidential elections were originally set for June 2002 but that changed in 1999 when the parliament amended the country's constitution and made Niyazov president for life. Many would like to see Turkmenistan held to the 2002 elections.

Russia's Interfax news agency, yesterday quoted Niyazov as urging Shikhmuradov to return to Turkmenistan to "try to solve this problem together." Niyazov said Shikhmuradov is free to bring his defense lawyers, even if they are foreign lawyers. However, Niyazov said both Shikhmuradov and Khanamov were caught "red-handed" and are now "going out of their way to trick people into believing they are being deprived of their freedom."

But, according to Khanamov, the Russian newspaper Vremya MN and the independent Azerbaijani newspaper Ekho, Turkmen authorities attempted to seize Khanamov in Turkey but were prevented from doing so by Turkish police. No Turkish sources have confirmed this story.

Turkmen Prosecutor General Gurbanbibi Atajanova (eds: a woman) made clear this week that the case has already been decided.

"Shikhmuradov himself, his allies, we are investigating his crimes together with other law-enforcement bodies. We have uncovered some of his crimes and criminal behavior. Based upon the testimonies of several people he has been fully proved guilty."

Turkmenistan's current foreign minister, Rashid Meredov, also alleged a series of crimes were committed by Shikhmuradov during his tenure in office. That led to a check of the Turkmen embassy in Turkey where alleged evidence of wrong doing was also uncovered.

The three former ambassadors are unlikely to return to Turkmenistan in the near future given that the Turkmen government seems convinced of their guilt already. However, their presence in Western countries could further damage Turkmenistan's poor reputation for democratic reforms and human rights. (RFE/RL)