Turkmen Assassination Mastermind Detained
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) _ Turkmenistan’s former foreign minister has been arrested for allegedly plotting to kill President Sapamurat Niyazov, the president said Thursday.
Boris Shikhmuradov, also once the country’s ambassador to China, denied the allegation and said the government staged the Nov. 25 assassination attempt so it could pursue its meager opposition.
Shikhmuradov is accused of planning the attack, when gunmen opened fire on Niyazov’s motorcade in the capital, Ashgabat. Three other exiled opposition figures have also been blamed, and dozens of their alleged accomplices have been detained in a crackdown that provoked criticism from the U.S. government and human rights groups.
Shikhmuradov posted an Internet message earlier saying he would turn himself over to authorities in hopes of easing persecution of others implicated in the assassination plot.
Niyazov escaped unharmed, but four police officers were wounded.
Niyazov told foreign diplomats on 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 unidentified Turkmen presidential aide, said Shikhmuradov was arrested in the apartment of a prominent Ashgabat doctor.
Shikhmuradov served as deputy prime minister and foreign minister from 1993 to 2000, and later as ambassador to China. He was earlier sought on suspicion of stealing $25 million worth of state property and smuggling.
Shikhmuradov is one of a number of former Turkmen officials who fled the Central Asian country. He has accused the Turkmen leader of isolating his nation, turning it into a police state, and taking part in crimes ranging from human rights violations to drug dealing and corruption.
Known as Turkmenbashi _ or ``Father of All Turkmen″ _ Niyazov 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.
Shikhmuradov faces charges of illegally trading arms, ammunition and explosives, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Turkmen authorities say Shikhmuradov entered Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan on the eve of the attack, and they accused the Uzbek ambassador to Turkmenistan, Abdurashid Kadyrov, of helping him cross the border illegally.
They say the ambassador also allowed Shikhmuradov to hide at his diplomatic residence following the assassination attempt, and on Saturday they expelled the ambassador from Turkmenistan.
Uzbek authorities have denied the allegations.
In his Web site statement, Shikhmuradov said he had entered Turkmenistan in September and spent the fall preparing for mass protests against Niyazov. The protests were set to begin at the end of November, he said. Then came the alleged assassination attempt.
``I was there and can say responsibly that it was all staged, organized by the authorities to overtake events and take reprisals against the opposition,″ he said.