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Turkmen Assassination Mastermind Detained

December 26, 2002

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) _ Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said Thursday that the alleged mastermind of an assassination attempt against him had been detained.

The announcement of former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov’s arrest came after Shikhmuradov issued a statement on a Web site saying he would turn himself in and accusing the government of staging the assassination attempt.

Shikhmuradov is one of a number of former Turkmen officials who fled abroad and formed an opposition movement. Turkmen authorities accuse him of organizing the Nov. 25 attack, in which gunmen opened fire on Niyazov’s motorcade in the capital Ashgabat.

Three other exiled opposition figures have also been accused, and dozens of their alleged accomplices have been detained in a crackdown that has brought criticism from the U.S. government and human rights organizations.

The Turkmen president told foreign diplomats Thursday that Shikhmuradov had been detained, but he did not say when or where or offer any other details. Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency, citing an unnamed Turkmen presidential aide, said Shikhmuradov was arrested in the apartment of a prominent Ashgabat doctor.

Shikhmuradov said in a statement posted Tuesday on his movement’s web site that he intended to turn himself in to the National Security Ministry.

He said he had been in Turkmenistan since September, preparing mass protests against Niyazov. The protests were set to begin at the end of November but were aborted after the assassination attempt and the subsequent crackdown.

He said the attack on Niyazov was staged as a pretext to ``take reprisals against the opposition.″

He said he hoped that his surrender would stop the wave of arrests. ``People have been beaten and subjected to psychological pressure in the cruelest way just to get them to admit that they saw me somewhere or heard about my whereabouts,″ he said.

Opposition exiles accuse Niyazov of isolating his nation, turning it into a police state and directly participating in crimes ranging from human rights violations to drug dealing and corruption.

Shikhmuradov and other opposition leaders are wanted in Turkmenistan on charges of stealing state property. They say the government trumped up the charges to force them to flee the country.

Turkmen authorities say Shikhmuradov entered Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan a day before the attack with help from the Uzbek ambassador to Turkmenistan, Abdurashid Kadyrov. Officials also accuse Kadyrov of helping hide Shikhmuradov after the attack. On Saturday, the ambassador was expelled from Turkmenistan.

Uzbek authorities have denied helping Shikhmuradov and protested Turkmen police raids last week on the ambassador’s residence and the homes of other embassy staff.

The Turkmen president escaped the assassination attempt unharmed but four police officers were injured.

Niyazov, who likes to be known as Turkmenbashi, or ``Father of All Turkmen″, rules his impoverished but energy-rich Central Asian nation with an iron hand.

President since 1985, when Turkmenistan was still part of the Soviet Union, he has named cities, palaces, mosques, and airports after himself.

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