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Turkmenistan Frees Prisoners On Muslim Holiday

President Berdymukhammedov.
ASHGABAT (Reuters) -- The Central Asian state of Turkmenistan has freed 1,670 prisoners, linking the amnesty to the Muslim holiday Laylat al-Qadr, official state media report.

Turkmenistan, ruled for two decades by Saparmurat Niyazov who tolerated no dissent and locked up political opponents, has been opening up slowly since its new president came to power in late 2006.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov ordered the mass amnesty, which took place on September 27, state television said.

Mass amnesties are regular occurrences in the gas-rich Caspian state, first introduced as a gesture of goodwill by Niyazov during his otherwise eccentric 21-year rule.

Berdymukhammedov, seeking to end Turkmenistan's isolation and bring in more foreign investment, has been chipping away at the late president's personality cult and trying to soften Turkmenistan's image abroad.

Last October, Berdymukhammedov pardoned 9,000 prisoners and then another 2,000 earlier this year. Turkmenistan's total prison population is unclear but human rights groups say a large number of political prisoners are still in jail.