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Turkmenistan: Niazov's 'Generosity' Knows No Bounds

Turkmenbashi seizes luxurious homes from allegedly corrupt officials and gives them to his impoverished citizens.
By Nyazik Ataeva

Hundreds of plum apartments and villas confiscated by Turkmenistan's autocratic president Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niazov are to be given to some of the country's poorest people.


The leader's apparent generosity is being seen as a bid for popularity in the face of plummeting ratings. "It's probably easy to give everything to the poor and needy if what you're giving them has never belonged to you," one sceptical pensioner told IWPR.


The luxurious official residences were once occupied by politicians and bankers who have since fallen from favour. In a televised address late last month, Turkmenbashi - or father of all Turkmen, as he likes to be known - said that around 200 houses had already been seized in Ashgabat, with another 100 to follow.


Turkmenbashi's political opponents point out that there are no established criteria for this policy of seizure and redistribution of real estate, and the president has not touched on the legality of giving property away in this manner.


In his speech, the president merely said the list of confiscated dwellings - including the previous residences of ex-deputy prime minister and Central Bank head Seitbai Kandymov - would be made available this month.


The move marks a new stage in a campaign to purge officialdom, which the president launched several months ago and which has already resulted in a marked shake-up on Turkmenistan's power structures.


While Turkmenbashi likes to present himself as a fighter against injustice who protects his citizens against corrupt officials, he has undoubtedly used the clear-out to rid himself of former allies whom he has now come to regard as opponents.


Prominent victims included national security committee president Lieutenant-General Mukhammed Nazarov, who was fired "for serious deficiencies and dereliction of duty and use of official position for personal goals", his deputy Hait Kakaev and the defence minister Major-General Gurbandurdy Begendjev.


One of the heads of the state border guard service, Hosse Reiimov, was similarly removed. Nazarov and Kakaev have already been sentenced to 20 years in jail.


The announcement that another 100 mansions are being lined up for confiscation suggests a fresh purge of the president's political opponents is in the offing.


Turkmenbashi's manoeuvres are taking place against a background of growing unrest. The government appears to have lost a good deal of its popularity lately, underlined by the recent burning of three huge portraits of the president in the centre of Ashgabat. According to local residents, these were hastily replaced before the majority of people could see what had happened.


No one knows who may have been behind this incident, but some analysts are taking it as a sign that political discontent is no longer confined to the opposition - the people of Turkmenistan are becoming restless.


These developments could prove difficult for Turkmenbashi's regime, which, although capable of imprisoning its opponents, intimidating the media and blocking access to opposition Internet sites, may find mass discontent more problematic to deal with.


Nyazik Ataeva is the pseudonym of a journalist in Ashgabat


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