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Rights Group Fears New Laws Could Result in Ethnic Cleansing in Turkmenistan

Human rights activists say new laws soon to come into force in Turkmenistan amount to racial discrimination against ethnic-Russians and could result in ethnic cleansing. The director of the International Helsinki Federation, Aaron Rhodes, has condemned decrees ending the right of dual citizenship for Russians living in Turkmenistan. He says this is just one of a series of human rights violations by the Turkmen government.

"This is part of a kind of ethnic cleansing," said Mr. Rhodes. "You could call it soft ethnic cleansing going on in that country. It's not just Russians that are being restricted and deprived of their positions in society. It's also members of other ethnic groups. And the regime is gradually subjecting citizens to a kind of racial screening procedures so that only the ethnic Turkmens can hold different kinds of positions and enjoy different kinds of rights. It also applies to educational opportunities."

Mr. Rhodes says non-Turkmen students who apply to study abroad have little chance getting government approval. He also says Moscow is becoming increasingly impatient with the repressive policies of Turkmenistan leader Saparmurat Niyazov. Mr. Rhodes says he has heard some officials discussing the need for a regime change in Turkmenistan.

The new Turkmen legislation comes into force on Sunday. By then about 100,000 Russians must opt for single citizenship of either Russia or Turkmenistan. If they choose a Russian passport they could lose homes and property in Turkmenistan. Those who choose Turkmen passports will not be able to travel freely to Russia.