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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 17:09 GMT
Turkmen leader's birthday hailed
A poster of the president is carried through the streets of Ashgabat during a parade to mark the tenth anniversary of independence from the USSR
Portraits are ubiquitous
Turkmenistan has staged lavish celebrations to mark the 63rd birthday of the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov, whom many admirers hail as the nation's "prophet".

Mr Niyazov's birthday is a national holiday in the Central Asian state, and this year it has been celebrated with a big military parade, concerts and flag-waving ceremonies.

But human rights groups used the occasion to urge Mr Niyazov, president-for-life who styles himself Father of all Turkmens, to improve what they say is the country's appalling human rights record.

The groups, which include Amnesty International, said a new wave of repressions and arrests have followed an alleged assassination attempt on Mr Niyazov last November.

And in a special birthday card campaign, they called on Mr Niyazov to "give his country a present" and introduce the rule of law.

Earlier this year, Mr Niyazov said 46 people had been convicted for the assassination attack, though dissidents said the plot may have been fabricated as an excuse to crack down on opposition.

'Stop clampdown'

In a joint statement, the groups said they had taken the unusual step of co-ordinating their action because of the seriousness of the situation in Turkmenistan.

Amnesty International has posted on its web site a special card entitled Birthday Wishes to President Niyazov.

The card urges Mr Niyazov to "give your country a present - stop the clampdown on legitimate dissent, investigate allegations of torture and free prisoners of conscience".

Other co-ordinated actions include demonstrations outside Turkmen embassies.

In the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, human rights activists gathered with posters and a written appeal.

'Prophet'

Mr Niyazov has been in power since before independence from the USSR in 1991, suppressing all opposition and building an almost unrivalled cult of personality around himself.

His birthday is one of the most important events in the country, and on Wednesday his numerous admirers used the occasion to show their devotion.

Mr Niyazov presided in the capital, Ashgabat over the military parade and displays of the country's flags, as his birthday is also officially celebrated as the Flag Day.

The whole country has been long preparing for the big event.

For the past week, state-run newspapers and television have been filled with messages of adulations from officials and ordinary Turkmens.

The country's interior minister said that Mr Niyazov was "a great personality who possesses the gift of a prophet".

Gifts also played an important part in the celebrations, and saw the president being presented with a renowned Akhaltekin stallion.





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SEE ALSO:
Turkmenistan's gilded poverty
19 Jun 02 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Turkmenistan
26 Jan 03 |  Country profiles


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