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Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1925. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. President NIYAZOV retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction and delivery projects can be worked out.
Update No: 265 - (28/01/03)
The Turkmen regime is the most bizarre in Eurasia, with the possible exception of North Korea. But President Saparmurat Niyazov is as far out as ever Kim il-Sung was in the extravagance of the personality cult surrounding him.
He claims to have spiritual insights that put him on a par with Mohammed, while he goes by the name of Turkmenbashi, leader of the Turks, a direct comparison to Ataturk. His name and photo appear all over the place, in schools, offices and people's own homes (if they are wise). His mother has been added to the pantheon, her name now being used as that of daily bread and of the vernal month of April. Her greatest creative effort was of course to produce Niyazov, the ultimate culmination of historical development in Turkman lands.
Niyazov is not obviously endowed with self-knowledge. He makes speeches which are as if a parody of a dictator, his own Charlie Chaplin to Hitler as it were.
In the New Year he announced to the country's religious leaders that there would be elections for the presidency in 2008-09. Also bills are being drawn up to increase the powers of the supreme representative to the People's Council.
The People's Council will annually designate three to five candidates for presidency, who will "immediately run in elections if something should happen to the president," Niyazov said.
"Everything has to be prepared beforehand, and the candidates must be reasonable, authoritative people who are able to work and whom the people have known for at least 10 years. We can't make a mistake here," Niyazov stressed.
Talking about a multi-party system, the president said he was not against setting up different parties, but "we can't allow parties, depending on election outcome, to present lists of their candidates to the mejlis (parliament)." He noted: "They can include in this list whomsoever they want. The leaders of the parties must be healthy. Therefore, we must not allow parties but personalities, people, to run in elections."
"All of this will happen, it will just take some time. So far we can't even elect the best among us," Niyazov concluded.
This way of putting things is indicative of his desire for the appearance of democracy but the reality of a one-party dictatorship. This makes elections a farce.
Elections to parliament in April
Elections to parliament are due to be held on April 6th. The assembly has only 50 seats, for which the candidates will be hand- picked.
Elections were formerly scheduled for December 2004 so that Niyazov is keen to establish his democratic credentials. Late last year, he survived an assassination attempt, in which all sorts of people have been put under suspicion, including foreign residents. The 'turmoil' in the country after this dramatic affair explains both why parliamentary elections have been brought forward and presidential elections are at best on the remote agenda, where hitherto Niyazov was being urged by parliament to be president for life. A re-affirmation of this invitation is perhaps the agenda of the new parliament. Time will tell.
Economy in recovery
One thing going for the regime is an economic recovery. GDP growth has been a remarkable 10% per year or thereabouts for years. GDP in 2002 amounted to 63.8 trillion manats in current prices or 21.2 per cent up in real terms, according to the annual report from the Turkmen National Institute of Statistics and Information.
Locals said the increase in GDP was due to a 26.5 per cent rise in services and 21.7 per cent rise in industrial production. In some branches, the increase was even more impressive, like in the food industry, which saw production up by 31 per cent and in the light industry, which saw production climb 24 per cent.
Agricultural production amounted to 12.9 trillion mantas, or 15.5 per cent more than in 2001. The sector accounts for 20 per cent of GDP. In construction, production rose 14 per cent and accounts for roughly eight per cent of GDP. The private sector accounts for over 40 per cent of the GDP.
Turkmenistan boosts agro sector with loan extensions
A new programme for overcoming the current crisis in Turkmenistan's agricultural sector provides for extending loans to agricultural producers and restructuring their debts, Turkmen president, Saparmurad Niyazov, recently told the cabinet, New Europe reported. Niyazov ordered the allocation of one trillion manta (US$192.3) from the state budget to agriculture. This money will be transferred to the Extra-Budget Agricultural Fund.
Niyazov also ordered entering the one trillion manta as a budgeted spending item. Niyazov signed a resolution concerning the reconstruction until 2008 of agrarian debts. This will make it possible for farms to put output earnings back into the sector and to cover debts later. Old debts, the president said, have to be paid off first.
Dragon Oil gains largest flow at Djeitun field in Caspian
Oil company Dragon Oil (UAE) has launched its fifth well at the Djeitun field in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea, which has provided the largest flow of oil, reports New Europe. A source in the company said the daily yield from the well amounts to 9,464 barrels of oil (over 1,260 tonnes) compared with 3,956 barrels at the fourth well. Dragon Oil chairman of the Board, Hussein Sultan, said the company is satisfied with the results received.
The company is currently looking for funds to continue its drilling programme and to modernise infrastructure both at sea and on land. Drilling of new wells will restart at Djeitun in the second half of 2003, Sultan said. In November 1999, Dragon Oil and the Turkmen government signed a production sharing agreement for the Cheleken contract zone, in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian. This contract zone includes the Djeitun field (formerly LAM) and also the Djigalybek field (formerly Zhdanova). Experts consider that reserves at the fields amount to 600 million barrels of oil and over 65 billion cubic metres of gas.
Leaders sign Trans-Afghan pipeline deal in Turkmenistan
The leaders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan's prime minister have signed an agreement on the construction of the trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline. President, Saparmurad Niyazov, of Turkmenistan, head of the Afghan Interim Administration, Khamid Karzai, and Pakistani Prime Minister, Mir Zafarulla Khan Jamali, inked the document, reported New Europe.
The 1,500km pipeline will link Turkmenistan's Dovletabad gas field, which contains an estimated 1.7 trillion cubic metres of gas, to the Pakistani city of Multan via Kandahar in Afghanistan. Its capacity is projected at 30 billion cubic metres of gas per year, and it will probably cost around US$2bn, or US$2.5bn if it is extended into India.
It is thought a feasibility study for the project, which will be based on a study done by America's Unocal a few years ago, and cost projections will be finished by May 2003. Then, international companies will be invited to form a consortium to build the pipeline. The Turkmen president said after the agreement was signed that the next summit between the three leaders would take place in Kabul in September 2003. Afghanistan's leader, for his part, said the "gas pipeline project will help to improve the situation in the region and bring economic growth to our states." And the Pakistani prime minister said the framework agreement that had been signed would "draw foreign investors to our project."
Turkmenistan posts higher oil, gas output
Turkmenistan's oil output rose by 11 per cent on the year to 9m tonnes, while gas output increased 12 per cent to 53.5bn cubic metres, Turkmenistan's Oil and Gas and Mineral Resources Ministry said on 15th January, Prime-TASS News Agency has reported .
State company Turkmenneft's oil output rose by 8 per cent to 7.8m tonnes, and foreign companies produced 508,000 t of oil.
Oil refineries based in Turkmenistan processed a total of 5.7m tonnes of crude in 2002, up 10 per cent on the year.
Turkmenneft also exported about 1bn cubic metres of gas to Russia in 2002, as well as 5bn cubic metres to Iran.
Turkmenistan's state gas company Turkmengaz exported 33.5bn cubic metres of gas in 2002, with Ukraine being the only recipient. Turkmenistan's total gas exports amounted to 39.3bn cubic metres in 2002.
Petrol output rose 44 per cent on the year, while the output of liquefied gas increased 100 per cent to 212,000 t.
Foreign support for Aral Sea problem at hand
Most of the 17 international organisations comprising donor countries for the Aral Sea problem intend to support a programme of concrete measures on improving the ecological and socio-economic situation in the Aral area. This statement was made at a recent meeting of Aral donor-countries in Dushanbe, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Aral Salvation Foundation, Sirojiddin Aslov, told Interfax News Agency.
A decision on principal measures for improvement of the ecological and socio-economic situation in the Aral basin for 2003-2010 was signed at a meeting of leaders of the Central Asian countries, who discussed the problem in October last year. According to documents circulated at the meeting, international organisations had extended eight grants worth US$47.7m and loans worth US$278.7m for the Aral rehabilitation programme as of September 2002. "This financing is not enough, as it was originally planned to raise US$500m to US$700m for the programme. Moreover, a significant amount of the grants return to the donors as payments for their consultative services, and only a minor amount remains in the region," Aslov said. According to the meeting participants, analysis of the situation has shown that the main factor hampering resolution of the problem is not the lack of financing, but poor understanding of what measures need to be taken.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Ashgabat, Tehran consider stronger bilateral ties
Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, recently met his Turkmen counterpart, Rashid Meredov, with whom he discussed ways and means to boost the all-out bilateral ties, New Europe reports. Meredov called for the implementation of agreements inked earlier between Iran and Turkmenistan since this would open a new chapter in their relations. He hoped that the next session of the Iran-Turkmenistan economic commission meeting would contribute to the expansion of the mutual ties in all areas. Kharrazi also met Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, and discussed the two countries' major projects in the energy field and their cooperation on the Caspian Sea.
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