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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 14:23 GMT
Turkmenistan to consider legal polygamy
Turkmen President Niyazov The polygamy proposal comes from President Niyazov himself


By Central Asia correspondent Louise Hidalgo

Officials in Turkmenistan say the issue of whether to introduce polygamy will be discussed when the country's highest representative body, the People's Council, meets later this month.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the question would be one of several to be discussed by the Council, which meets only once a year.

The idea of allowing Turkmens to marry more than one wife is said to have come from Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov himself. He brought up the proposal a few weeks ago at a meeting broadcast on national television.

The suggestion is simple: a man can marry again but only if he has the written permission of his first wife.

There has been little discussion of the idea so far in Turkmenistan's heavily controlled media.

But if the proposal were accepted it would be a move unique in this vast Central Asian region stretching from Iran to China.

Secular tradition

Central Asia is home to tens of millions of Muslims from many different ethnic groups. Polygamy was practised centuries ago among the settled people of what is now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as well as among the lands of the Nomadic Turkmen tribes.

But the decades of Soviet rule have left a secular legacy that is still deeply ingrained.

And among the other Central Asians, polygamy remains strictly prohibited - at least in law.

But that has not stopped the practice spreading, particularly in the years that have followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Tajikistan, just emerging from a long and brutal civil war, the government in recent months voiced increasing concern that women left without husbands or brothers by the conflict believe themselves to have no choice but to become a second wife instead.

Other proposals scheduled for discussion at Turkmenistan's People's Council include one which would make Mr Niyazov president for life. He has been in power for the past 14 years.

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27 Oct 98 |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmenistan celebrates independence

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