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Turkmenistan's Government Under Fire For Limiting Freedoms - 2002-11-05

At a meeting in Moscow dissident politicians from Turkmenistan, joined by officials from human rights organizations, accused the Turkmen government of violating human rights.

The meeting, sponsored by two human rights organizations, the International Helsinki Federation and the Moscow-based Memorial organization, heard a long list of complaints against the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurad Niyazov.

Mr. Niyazov was accused of censoring the media, restricting civil liberties and jailing political opponents.

At a news conference following the meeting, a former Turkmen politician, Avdi Kuliyev, said conditions in the country are so bad, many people are trying to flee. Mr. Kuliyev served as foreign minister in Turkmenistan from 1991 until 1992, but was later exiled.

Mr. Kuliyev said the Turkmen government is terrorizing its own people, forcing many of them to leave for other countries.

President Niyazov has ruled the Central Asian country of five million people since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Officials of his government deny violating the human rights of their people.

But the Turkmen government was not the only target for criticism at the meeting. Aaron Rhodes from the International Helsinki Federation, a human rights organization, said before last year's terrorist attacks against the United States, Western governments frequently criticized Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries for their alleged human rights violations.

But Mr. Rhodes said ever since the attacks, Western criticism has been muted. "he West needed these countries to help them in their efforts against the Taleban so there was a palpable reduction in criticism of human rights abuses," Mr. Rhodes said.

Mr. Rhodes and other people at the conference also pointed out that Turkmenistan has vast reserves of natural gas.

These reserves, they said, and the fact that many governments want access to them, may also explain why many governments are reluctant to be critical of Turkmenistan.