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Turkmen In U.S. Protest Berymukhammedov's Plan To Change Constitution

Turkmen protesters rally outside the embassy in Washington against the regime of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on September 1.

WASHINGTON -- Dozens of Turkmen citizens have held rallies in Washington, as well as in the cities of Houston and Pittsburgh, protesting the plan by Turkmenistan's authoritarian leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to introduce amendments to the constitution, the details of which remain unknown in the tightly-controlled Central Asian nation.

One of the organizers of the rally in front of the Turkmen Embassy in Washington, D.C., on September 1, Murat Gurbanov, who is the leader of a group called Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan established abroad, told RFE/RL during the rally that the protesters were demanding the Turkmen government cancel the plan to change the constitution.

"Some 30 Turkmens residing in different parts of the United States gathered today in front of the Turkmen Embassy and we demand that the constitution of our country can be changed only via national referendum," Gurbanov said, adding that a change to the constitution without the involvement of citizen would "deprive us all of our rights forever."

Berdymukhammedov initiated the constitutional changes a year ago and has led a commission he established that prepared a bill of amendments.

Turkmen citizens have yet to be informed about the exact changes to the constitution of the tightly controlled, energy-rich country, except that the single-chamber parliament, the Mejlis, will merge with the People's Council and become a two-chamber institution.

The People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) was created in 2017 on the basis of the Council of Elders. Berdymukhammedov is the council's chairman.

On August 19, the commission announced that it had sent the proposed constitutional amendments to the People's Council, which is expected to approve the amendments at its session on September 25.

The protesters in the United States say that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and its eventual succession to his son and grandchildren.

They held posters demanding Berdymukhammedov's resignation and challenging his policies.

Gurbanov said that nobody from the embassy came out to talk to the protesters, while one person appeared with a videocamera and recorded the picket. When protesters tried to talk to that person, he quickly retreated back inside the building.

After rallying in front of the embassy, the protesters walked to Capitol Hill, where they demonstrated in front of the U.S. Congress.

Since June, protests against Berdymukhammedov have been staged by Turkmen citizens residing in the United States, Turkey, and Northern Cyprus.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.