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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.

Turkmen authorities have accused former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov 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 implicated, and dozens of their alleged accomplices have been detained in a crackdown that has provoked criticism of 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.

Shikhmuradov is one of a number of former Turkmen officials who have fled abroad and formed an opposition movement. Shikhmuradov has accused the 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.

For his part, Shikhmuradov and other opposition leaders face charges of stealing state property at home.

Turkmen authorities say Shikhmuradov entered Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan on the day before the attack. They accuse the Uzbek ambassador to Turkmenistan, Abdurashid Kadyrov, of helping Shikhmuradov sneak across the border. They say the ambassador also allowed Shikhmuradov to hide at his diplomatic residence following the assassination attempt. On Saturday, the ambassador was expelled from Turkmenistan.

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

Niyazov escaped the assassination attempt unharmed but four police officers were injured.

Nyazov, 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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