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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 08:43 GMT
Turkmen arrests for 'assassination' plot
Turkmen presidential palace
The reported attack happened in the city centre
Turkmen police have arrested 16 people suspected of taking part in an assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov on Monday.

President Niyazov, who has ruled the energy-rich country with an autocratic grip, has accused exiled political opponents of plotting to kill him in the attack.

Saparmurat Niyazov
Mr Niyazov has created a personality cult unrivalled in Central Asia

But the people he accused, speaking from abroad, denied any involvement.

Boris Shikhmuradov, a former foreign minister, told the Gundogar web site that any number of people could have wanted the president killed.

"Niyazov deserves as many deadly gunshots as lives and destinies he has ruined," he said.

Three vehicles tried to block off President Niyazov's motorcade as he travelled to the presidential palace in the centre of Ashgabat. Shots were fired, though the president was not hurt.

A presidential spokesman said four of the detained suspects were being treated as mercenaries, and the incident itself considered an act of international terrorism.

President Niyazov went on TV to implicate four former officials in the attack, including Mr Shikhmuradov, his former right-hand man.

"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.

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.

The accused

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

  • Mr Shikhmuradov

  • Nurmukhamet Khanamov, a former ambassador

  • Khudayberdy Orazov, a former head of the Central Bank

  • Imamdurdy Yklymov, a former deputy minister of agriculture

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

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.

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:

25 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
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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