Turkmenbashi dead

Reply Thu 21 Dec, 2006 12:18 pm
Turkmenistan's 'iron ruler' dies

Turkmenistan's authoritarian president Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the Central Asian country for 21 years, has died aged 66, state TV has reported.

Mr Niyazov, who named cities and airports after himself in a personality cult, left no designated successor.

Turkmenistan, which has large gas reserves, now faces an uncertain future with rival groups and outside powers scrambling for influence, analysts say.

Mr Niyazov died at 0110 local time (2010 GMT Wednesday) of a heart attack.

Last month, the president publicly acknowledged he had heart disease.

His funeral is set to take place on 24 December in the capital, Ashgabat.

BBC correspondents quote witnesses as saying the capital has been quiet since the news broke, with many people staying at home, shocked and unsure of what may happen next.

Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been named head of the commission handling the funeral, state television said.

According to Turkmen law, the president is succeeded by the head of the legislative body, the People's Assembly. But this post was held by Mr Niyazov himself.

Turkmenistan has called an emergency meeting of its highest representative body for 26 December to decide on Mr Niyazov's succession, the government said.

Mr Berdymukhamedov has also been named acting head of state until then, according to government sources.

The cabinet of ministers and the National Security Council in Turkmenistan have held emergency sessions to discuss the situation.


source: BBC
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Reply Thu 21 Dec, 2006 12:47 pm

It would be nice if this marked a change for the better, but from what little I know that's probably pretty unlikely...?
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old europe
Reply Thu 21 Dec, 2006 12:57 pm
Hard to tell. Niyazov has been leader of the country for more than two decades, and the political elite (or what existed before he became "Father of the Turkmen") has been eliminated. More or less.

The political structures that do exist are just pretty names for the fact that Turkmenbashi was the state.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 22 Dec, 2006 12:47 am
From today's The Guardian (online version, photos from the printed edition, page 3)

Bizarre, brutal and self-obsessed. Now time's up for Turkmenistan's dictator

· President who craved adulation dies at 66
· Uncertain future could hinge on huge gas reserves

Tom Parfitt in Moscow
Friday December 22, 2006
The Guardian

He outlawed opera, ballet and men listening to car radios. He decreed that the month of January should be named after him and April after his mother. He published a book of his spiritual thoughts that became required reading not only in schools, but for all those wishing to pass their driving test.
Even for central Asia, the absolute rule of Sapurmurat Niyazov was colourful.

But if life under Turkmenistan's dictator was dangerous and bizarre in equal quantities, the sudden release from his 21-year grip on power yesterday left a gaping vacuum in a land with the world's fifth largest reserves of natural gas.

Soon after Niyazov died of a heart attack at the age of 66, Turkmenistan's armed forces were put on high alert and border crossing points were closed. State television showed musicians sawing on violins and a week of mourning was announced. New Year celebrations were cancelled and black tape was hung outside Turkmen embassies abroad.
The government urged the country to "be calm and brave" and unite further to overcome with dignity the severe ordeal which had befallen it and "continue honourably the deeds of the national leader".

Natural gas

There is no obvious successor to the man who forced his impoverished people to call him the Turkmenbashi - "the leader of all Turkmens", because he ensured that no one in his close circle could establish a power base.

But events in Turkmenistan will be of supreme interest to Moscow, China and the west. The country pipes huge quantities of natural gas to Russia's Gazprom and is a key player in Moscow's policy of using its position as a monopoly supplier of energy for political ends. Much of Europe's natural gas starts in this central Asian desert state.

"The situation now will be similar to that in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin," said Konstantin Zatulin, head of Moscow's Institute of CIS Studies. "At first the leadership gets together to show its unity and then internal conflicts begin."

Opposition politicians who live in exile in Scandinavia, Russia and Turkey, including former foreign minister Avdi Kuliev, announced plans to return home last night. However, it remained unclear whether anti-regime figures, who have been ostracised for years, would be allowed in the country. "A group intends to return but there are criminal cases still open against many opposition figures," said Farkhad Ilyasov, an activist in Moscow. Turkmenistan's foreign ministry refused to comment. "We can't talk, we are in mourning," said a spokesman.

During his rule Niyazov turned his country into a hymn of praise to himself. He erected numerous monuments in his honour, including a revolving gold statue in the capital, Ashgabat. Giant billboards of the leader hang all over, although he often feigned embarrassment at the adulation. "I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want," he once said.

But the pressure to worship the leader was relentless. Children were forced to learn his book of poetry, the Ruhnama, at school, and a copy of the book was sent into space for good measure.

Official propaganda had it that Turkmenbashi brought his people into a new "golden age", but in reality they were held in almost total isolation and political dissent was crushed. Niyazov used an alleged assassination attempt in 2002 - thought by many to be fabricated - as an excuse to crack down on opponents, who were imprisoned and interned.


The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights called yesterday for scores of political prisoners to be released following the dictator's death. Executive director, Aaron Rhodes, said: "Niyazov turned Turkmenistan into a bizarre totalitarian state, a place sinking into a desperate and sick existence. Now there is a chance to introduce a real democracy."

Niyazov came to power in 1985 as first secretary of the Turkmen Communist party. After the Soviet collapse six years later he was elected president and in 1999 was made president for life.

Deputy prime minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was named yesterday as acting president. No date has been set for a presidential election. Analysts predicted a succession battle that would see the likes of Russia and China trying to exert influence to preserve energy supplies.

Mr Zatulin said: "There are two main dangers: an attempt to preserve the political structure where natural rights and freedoms are denied, and the risk of a fall into bloodshed, carnage and civil war."

A dictator's decrees

Ordered the building of a palace made of ice to accommodate up to 1,000 people in the Turkmen desert

Built numerous monuments to himself including a gold-plated statue that rotates to face the sun at all times

Plastered his own image on carpets, vodka bottles, watches and launched his own brand of perfume. When he dyed his hair black, he made it illegal to own watches which showed him with grey hair

Banned opera and ballet, long hair or beards for men and the playing of recorded music at any public event

Published a book of spiritual musings or "vessel of knowledge, wisdom and sound thought", the Ruhnama, and introduced it into the country's legal code

Changed the name of January to Turkmenbashi, and the name of April to that of his mother

Closed all hospitals except those in the capital, Ashgabat

Decreed the building of a desert zoo host penguins among others

Urged young people not to get gold dentures saying: "Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not gnaw on bones. This is my advice."
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 22 Dec, 2006 12:50 am
http://i17.tinypic.com/499vtyx.jpg http://i14.tinypic.com/2qai9vk.jpg
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 25 Dec, 2006 01:07 pm
Turkmenistan's New Leader Little-Known

Monday December 25, 2006


Associated Press Writer

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AP) - As health minister of Turkmenistan, he presided over a medical system regarded as one of the world's worst. Now Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov is suddenly head of the country.

Little is known about the man who became acting president after the death of Turkmenistan's longtime authoritarian leader, including his intentions of staying in office. The constitution says the acting president cannot become full leader - but the constitution also says he was not supposed to become acting president to begin with.

Under the late President Saparmurat Niyazov's domineering cult of personality, all other officials remained in the shadows, their public statements mostly limited to praising Niyazov and promising to follow his orders.

But Dosym Satpayev, a political analyst in Kazakhstan, says there is reason to believe that Berdymukhamedov is more than just a mouthpiece. He told The Associated Press that some former Turkmen officials describe Berdymukhamedov as ``clever and professional in his field'' and less heavy-handed than Niyazov.

``There are chances for some changes,'' he said.

Berdymukhamedov clearly has skills as a survivor. The 49-year-old former dentist has been health minister since 1997 and deputy prime minister since 2001 - a long tenure given Niyazov's penchant for firing senior officials.

The new leader's rise appeared to be a master stroke of maneuvering. Under the constitution, the speaker of parliament is supposed to take over temporarily upon the death of the president. But within hours after Niyazov's death, Berdymukhamedov was named acting president - and the parliament speaker was dismissed because of a criminal investigation.

Whether Berdymukhamedov engineered the ascension or was the figurehead for other forces remains in question.

In either case, some analysts see the move as a harbinger of continued one-party rule.

The national People's Council on Tuesday is to set a date for new elections and consider candidates for the vote. According to the constitution, the elections must be held within two months and the acting president cannot run. However, the People's Council also has the power to change the constitution.

Russian analyst Arkady Dubnov said the elections could be put off until the spring or even the autumn and suggested the vote, whenever it is held, would hardly be pluralistic.

``It's not known how many candidates will be put forth officially and how the sifting of them will go as the election gets closer, so that it becomes clear to the citizens of Turkmenistan whom they should, in reality, vote for,'' he wrote in Monday's edition of the Moscow newspaper Vremya Novostei.

Any attempt to cultivate genuine popular support for Berdymukhamedov could be undermined by questions over his actions as health minister.

He was responsible for implementing Niyazov's 2005 decree that all hospitals outside Ashgabat be closed and that 15,000 civilian doctors be fired and replaced by military physicians.

The move was denounced by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, which also noted that because Turkmens increasingly have to pay for a wide range of treatments ``health care has become financially inaccessible to most people.''

Although Turkmenistan takes in billions of dollars of natural gas revenue a year, its health system is widely regarded as the second worst in the ex-Soviet Union - ahead of only Tajikistan, a country that has virtually no natural resources to sell.

The World Health Organization says Turkmenistan's life expectancy is the lowest in Europe - in which the WHO includes the country - just 56 years for males.

But if Berdymukhamedov faces popular discontent, he may be more in danger from high officials, Satpayev said.

``Not all in Niyazov's circle are lambs - they will understand that they might lose their previous positions and begin intrigues,'' he said.
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