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US Is Concerned with Human Rights Issues in Turkmenistan


The United States is expressing concern over human rights conditions in Turkmenistan following the November 25 assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov. Diplomats and human rights activists accuse Mr. Niyazov's government of using the November incident as a pretext for a harsh crackdown on his political opponents.

The State Department says the United States is "deeply concerned" by the conduct of authorities in the wake of the assassination attempt in Turkmenistan, where prominent opponents of President Niyazov are facing prosecution amid charges of torture and other mistreatment of the detainees.

Mr. Niyazov, who has ruled the Central Asian country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, escaped injury in the November 25 attack, in which his motorcade was raked by gunfire as it moved through the capital, Ashgabat.

Human rights activists say more than 100 people have been arrested in the aftermath of the incident, including several former officials of the government who had become critics of Mr. Niyazov's authoritarian rule.

Mr. Niyazov last week announced that his foreign minister for eight years, Boris Shikhmuradov, the most prominent opposition figure, had been arrested as the alleged ringleader of the attack.

In a written statement, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States recognizes the Turkmenistan government's right to apprehend those involved in the attack on the president.

But he said it cannot condone actions that violate international legal practice, and standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, to which Turkmenistan belongs.

Mr. Reeker said the Niyazov government has conducted "summary trials" of alleged perpetrators, without due process of law and said the United States has "credible" reports of torture and abuse of suspects.

He further said authorities in Ashgabat have arrested relatives of opposition members and social activists with no apparent link to the assault, and have refused to respect the immunity of diplomats and embassies in the capital.

Mr. Reeker said the United States calls on Turkmenistan to accord due process to all those arrested, and to respect its commitments to the OSCE by allowing a mission of the organization to travel there to investigate abuses.

Additionally, the spokesman said the United States urges Turkmenistan to abide by its obligations with regard to consular access to foreign nationals who have been arrested citing its "particular concern" over the case of Leonid Komarovsky, a U.S. citizen detained since the attack.

Mr. Komarovsky, a Boston-based businessman who also holds Russian citizenship, was a guest at the home of a Niyazov political opponent also accused of being part of the assassination plot.

Mr. Reeker said Turkmenistan's government has failed to act on repeated U.S. requests for prompt and regular access to the 55-year-old U.S. citizen.

The Niyazov government has accused Russian-based exiles of organizing the November attack and has alleged that Russian authorities were complicit in the plot, a charge rejected by Moscow as absurd.

Mr. Niyazov was head of the Turkmen communist party in the Soviet era and became president after the country's independence in 1991. He has consolidated power while creating a cult of personality around his leadership and was declared president-for-life in 1999.