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Widow Of Turkish Diplomat Who Died In 'Coronavirus-Free' Turkmenistan Seeks Justice

Turkish diplomat Kemal Uckun died in a Turkmen clinic.
Turkish diplomat Kemal Uckun died in a Turkmen clinic.

Turkish media reports say the widow of a diplomat who suddenly died of an illness with COVID-19-like symptoms in Turkmenistan, which claims it has no official cases of the disease, is seeking justice for her husband.

According to the reports, Guzide Uckun has filed lawsuits against Turkish Ambassador to Turkmenistan Togan Oral, officials of Turkey's Health Ministry, other officials in the Turkish government for what she called a "failure " to provide emergency transportation for her husband, Kemal Uckun, from Turkmenistan for treatment.

Kemal Uckun, who worked at the Turkish Embassy in Ashgabat as an adviser on religious issues since January 2018, was hospitalized with breathing issues, a heavy cough, and a fever in late June. He died 11 days later in a Turkmen clinic. His widow insists that the man could be saved if he was timely transferred to Turkey for proper treatment.

Guzide Uckun told the Sozcu online newspaper on December 20 that despite obvious COVID-19 symptoms, her husband was treated with antibiotics which are not used to treat coronavirus patients.

"I demanded a sanitary plane or any other aircraft to be sent [to Ashgabat] to bring my husband back to Turkey. I filled applications and provided all necessary papers every day before his death. But the embassy, the directorate of religious issues, the Health Ministry did not do enough to bring him home," Guzide Uckun said.

A source close to the Turkish government told RFE/RL at the time of the 57-year-old diplomat's death that Ashgabat refused to allow a Turkish plane to come to Turkmenistan to transport Uckun home because Turkmen officials did not want the world to know that coronavirus was in their country.

The same source told RFE/RL on December 20 that Uckun's relatives are also going to hold Turkmen authorities responsible, accusing them of negligence and obstruction of Uckun's repatriation.

Turkmen authorities allowed a Turkish air ambulance to enter its territory only on July 9 to collect Uckun's body, hours after he was pronounced dead.

Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian nation that has not reported officially a single coronavirus infection to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In August, the WHO expressed concern over an increase in atypical pneumonia cases in Turkmenistan and unsuccessfully urged Ashgabat to allow it to organize independent coronavirus tests in the country.

Turkmen officials have clung to their zero-infections statistics despite signs of outbreaks in prisons, schools, and the general population as hospitals get increasingly crowded, as well as large numbers of cases in neighboring countries.

Many Turkmen citizens report staying home despite illness, fearing that a trip to the doctor could infect them as hospitals quietly strain under high numbers of patients reporting COVID-19-like symptoms.

The bodies of victims of lung ailments are being delivered to relatives in special plastic bags, and there have been an unusually high number of fresh graves across the country.

With reporting by Sozcu and Aryahaber

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