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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 08:42 GMT
Q&A: Turkmen leader's death
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov
Saparmurat Niyazov ruled Turkmenistan for two decades
Following the death of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, BBC News asked Michael Hall, Central Asia project manager with the International Crisis Group, about the implications.

Does Niyazov's death come as a surprise?

It certainly does. There have been rumours for quite some time that his health has been failing, but the assumption has always been that he had the means and the doctors to keep him going.

He was a very authoritarian leader. Had he named a successor?

Niyazov was pretty much the state, and what he decreed on any subject - politics, culture, science - was very much the law. No permission has been granted for any kind of independent political institutions, there have been no opportunities at all for them to develop, and there is no designated successor.

Given that he styled himself the father of the nation, will his death have any psychological effect?

Absolutely. There is an entire generation that has been brought up in this spirit. But at the same time there's an older generation who do remember what life was like before Niyazov came to power, and do have a somewhat different vision of how things could be. But certainly, for a great proportion of the population, this will come as a great blow.

What does his death mean for the rest of the world?

You have to keep in mind that Turkmenistan has massive reserves of natural gas, which a number of countries have been competing to get access to, including Russia and China. So I think there will be a certain scramble for influence with whatever government might emerge.

Is there a risk of political instability?

Well it's very difficult to say. But certainly there have been growing fears over the last few years that any abrupt removal of Niyazov could lead to a power struggle between representatives of different regions and different clans, which - in the worst case scenario - could lead to civil war or to a failed state. But at this stage, given the lack of reliable information about the internal political structure, it's very difficult to say, but I do think there is cause for concern.

Will Turkmenistan's foreign policies now change?

Niyazov seems to have taken the idea of neutrality as maintaining pretty much the minimum relations with everybody. It's difficult to say in what direction the country will head now.

How will the death affect the rest of Central Asia?

All the countries in Central Asia are closely connected. Instability in one country can easily affect instability in other countries. If there is instability or conflict in Turkmenistan, this could have very serious consequences for neighbouring states, particularly Uzbekistan.

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