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Tajik Culture Minister Murdered - 2001-09-08

Tajikistan's culture minister was shot and killed by an unidentified gunman early Saturday. He is the third senior government official to be killed in the central Asian republic so far this year.

Tajikistan's culture minister, Abdurakhim Rakhimov, was gunned down outside his home in the capital, Dushanbe, early Saturday morning. Police say he was hit by five bullets fired from one gun and died at the scene.

Police describe his killer as a man of around 25, armed with a pistol fitted with a silencer. An accomplice was waiting in a getaway car, and both escaped.

The government described the killing as an act of terror designed to destabilize the country. Sunday is the 10th anniversary of Tajikistan's independence from the Soviet Union, and Mr. Rakhimov was one of the organizers of the national celebrations.

Tajikistan remains politically volatile five years after the end of a civil war in which pro-Communist forces loyal to Moscow fought Islamic groups. The war claimed 50,000 lives, but there are still sporadic upsurges of Islamic militancy, amid fears that the Tajikistan could be destabilized like its neighboring republic, Afghanistan.

Despite its poverty, and a crippling drought, Tajikistan has absorbed a huge influx of refugees from the conflict in Afghanistan.

The killing of the culture minister was the third attack this year against senior politicians. All have taken place in the capital in broad daylight.

In July unidentified gunmen shot and killed the Tajik president's top foreign affairs adviser. In April Tajik Security Minister Khabib Sanginov was shot and killed, along with his driver and two bodyguards. He was a key opposition figure allied with Islamic rebels during the civil war.

Culture Minister Rakhimov was killed despite tightened security in the capital, ahead of Independence Day festivities.