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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Turkmen leader in 'mass amnesty'
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov in January 2006
Saparmurat Niyazov has created a personality cult in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov says he has pardoned some 10,000 prisoners in an annual amnesty.

The prisoners include eight men who were convicted of trying to assassinate him four years ago, he said.

President Niyazov has pardoned tens of thousands of prisoners during his 15-year rule, which he says proves how much the state cares about its people.

But the authoritarian ruler has been criticised for human rights abuses and for fostering a personality cult.

President Niyazov said 10,056 men would be freed under the amnesty - the highest number of prisoners ever to be released at once.

He said the number included eight of 50 men who were convicted of the November 2002 attempt on his life, because they had "repented".

"The rest should be kept imprisoned, their guilt is excessive," he said.

The prisoners are scheduled to be released on 19 October, the last day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

They will be required to pledge never to commit crimes again.

Mr Niyazov - known as Turkmenbashi, or father of the Turkmen - has ruled the mainly Muslim desert state since Soviet times.

He is known for issuing eccentric decrees on all aspects of behaviour, his pictures adorn public buildings and his "spiritual guidebook" is compulsory reading throughout Turkmenistan.

But rights groups accuse him of running one of the world's most repressive regimes, tolerating no dissent and allowing no political or media freedoms.

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