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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 19:54 GMT
Turkmen leader accuses opposition
Turkmen presidential palace
The reported attack happened in the city centre
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has accused exiled political opponents of plotting to kill him in an ambush on Monday.

He went on TV to name four former officials including his former right-hand man, Boris Shikhmuradov.

He said that three vehicles had tried to block off his motorcade as he was travelling to the presidential palace in the centre of Ashgabat and shots were fired.

Saparmurat Niyazov
Mr Niyazov has created a personality cult unravelled in Central Asia
Mr Niyazov, unharmed in the reported attack, later called an emergency cabinet meeting.

"I was not aware of anything and came to work. Then at work I was informed that there was a shoot-out going on there," Mr Niyazov said on TV.

According to the Turkmen leader, attackers had emerged from a car and two lorries and started shooting.

Foreign correspondents say that the streets of Ashgabat have been quiet and have noted no extra security measures.

Monday's reported attack in Ashgabat, the capital of a police state where the president has a personality cult reminiscent of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has not been verified by non-official sources.

The accused

Mr Niyazov named four men as being behind the reported attack:

  • Boris Shikhmuradov, a former foreign minister

  • Nurmukhamet Khanamov, a former ambassador

  • Khudayberdy Orazov, a former head of the Central Bank

  • and Imamdurdy Yklymov, a former deputy minister of agriculture

All four have been living in exile for the past year.

Discontent

Western observers report that at least three mass protests have broken out spontaneously in the Turkmen cities of Ashgabat, Dashogouz and Turkmenbashi over the past few months to protest on issues like education.

Discontent is also reported within the political elite.


I think that the extent to which Niyazov has alienated his own government is underestimated

Aleksander Zaslavsky, Eurasia political risk consultancy

Close associates are frequently subject to arbitrary cabinet reshuffles and humiliating rebukes by the president, often broadcast live on television.

"I think that the extent to which Niyazov has alienated his own government is underestimated," said Aleksander Zaslavsky, director of consulting at the Eurasia political risk consultancy.

Personality cult

The 62-year-old Turkmen president has been in power in the country since before independence from the USSR in 1991.

The self-styled Father of all Turkmens has constructed a personality cult around himself harking back to the days of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and likewise tolerates no opposition to his rule.

Streets and towns have been given his name and a recent decree renamed the months of the year and days of the week after the president, his mother and Turkmen folklore heroes.

A giant golden statue of the president, revolving on top of a tower so that it always faces the sun, has been built in the centre of Ashgabat.

Turkmenistan has the fifth-largest deposits of natural gas in the world but most of its population live in abject poverty.

See also:

19 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Sep 02 | Country profiles
28 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
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