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National security minister says calm will be preserved after Turkmen leader's death

National security minister says calm will be preserved after Turkmen leader's death

Turkmenistan's security minister promised his forces will preserve calm in the wake of the death of longtime dictator Saparmurat Niyazov in a statement published in state-run newspapers Saturday.
Lt. Gen. Geldimukhammed Ashirmukhammedov vowed to pursue policies set forth by Niyazov, who also was called "Turkmenbashi" (Father of All Turkmen).
The national security ministry "will day and night stand guard on the achievements founded by Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great ... and vigilantly preserve the calm and happy life of our people and to support stable conditions within the country," the statement said.
Niyazov, who died Thursday after two decades of rule that produced an all-encompassing personality cult, left no apparent preferred successor and signs of power-jockeying emerged just hours after his death was announced. Although the Constitution stipulates that the Parliament speaker become acting president, the deputy prime minister was given the job and he later dismissed the speaker.
After Niyazov's death, exiled opposition leaders are clamoring to return and Russia and the West appeared positioned to compete for influence over the Central Asian country and its vast energy resources. Turkmenistan is a key supplier for Europe.
The acting president, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, said Friday that the chief legislative body would set a date for elections next Tuesday. But one-party rule does not appear threatened in the country, which has never known democracy.
The late president banned opposition parties, personally approved the content of all newspapers and had authorities block Web sites critical of his government.
In a sign of keen outside interest in Turkmenistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a condolence message that "strengthening our partnership is in the true interests of the peoples of Russia and Turkmenistan." U.S. President George W. Bush said the U.S. hopes "to expand our relations with Turkmenistan."
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Saturday urged calm during the transitional period in Turkmenistan following Niyazov's death.
Turkey has close ethnic and linguistic ties to Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries.
Niyazov, 66, became absolute leader _ and the center of a personality cult _ after Turkmenistan became independent with the 1991 Soviet collapse. The desert nation of 5 million lies north of Afghanistan and Iran.
Analysts said powerful security officials stood behind Berdymukhamedov, a deputy prime minister who is likely only an interim leader.
His rise to power was swift and surprising. Under the Constitution, Parliament Speaker Ovezgeldy Atayev was next in line for the presidency. But shortly after Niyazov's death was announced, Atayev was charged with abuse of power and human rights violations.
Atayev was dismissed Friday, accused of harassing and humiliating his own daughter-in-law and driving her to attempt suicide.
Khudaiberdy Orazov, Turkmenistan's former Central Bank chief living in exile in Sweden, told The Associated Press that he and two other opposition leaders planned to return home to compete in the presidential election.
Another exiled opposition figure, former Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliyev, also said he planned to return from Norway.
But Azhdar Kurtov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Research, predicted Turkmenistan's security agencies would tightly control the election.
"The Turkmen people won't face any democratic choice in the elections," he said. "A single candidate with no alternatives will be put forward for whom everybody will have to vote."
Niyazov won Turkmenistan's last presidential election in 1992 with a reported 95.5 percent of the vote. He was named president for life in 1999.
Ashgabat streets were deserted on Saturday, with music banned at public places and children not allowed to play outside. Vendors at markets were told to wear hats or scarves and not to speak or laugh too loud.
Security checkpoints outside Ashgabat were tightened and villagers who came to sell products at city markets were being turned away.
Weddings, other celebrations and sporting events were canceled.
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Associated Press writer Gulshen Ashirova contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-19 11:47 GMT+08:00