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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 11:55 GMT
Turkmen 'coup plot' suspect held
Turkmen presidential palace
The assassination attempt happened in the city centre
Turkmen police have arrested the alleged mastermind of an assassination attempt against the country's president.

Former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who had been living in exile, was detained inside the Central Asian republic, but a presidential spokesman gave no further details.

Saparmurat Niyazov
Niyazov: A personality cult unrivalled in Central Asia

President Saparmurat Niyazov announced the arrest on Thursday, while speaking to diplomats awaiting the arrival of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Niyazov escaped unharmed when gunmen raked his motorcade with machine-gun fire on 25 November in the capital Ashgabat. Four policemen were wounded.

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

Other arrests

Mr Niyazov said the investigation was continuing.

The day after the attack the authorities announced that 16 suspects had been arrested.

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

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

Before his arrest Mr Shikhmuradov said 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.

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

The accused

In addition to Mr Shikhmuradov, his former right-hand man, Mr Niyazov named three others as being behind the attack:

  • 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 over 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.

The self-styled Father of all Turkmens has constructed a personality cult around himself harking back to the Soviet period and tolerates no opposition to his rule.

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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