Turkmen President Niyazov Survives Assassination Attempt
by Eurasianet 27 November 2002
ASHGABAT, 27 November (Eurasianet)-Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, survived an assassination attempt on 25 November that left several attackers dead and at least one bodyguard seriously wounded. Experts now expect Niyazov to intensify purges of security forces and other government agencies and tighten control over society.
According to various sources, the attack against Niyazov came as the president was traveling in a motorcade, making his way from his official residence outside Ashgabat to his presidential office. According to Turkmenistan.ru, "unknown attackers using automatic weapons" fired from several vehicles at the presidential motorcade. Niyazov escaped unharmed, according to the website and one police officer, a member of Niyazov's security escort, was seriously wounded during the exchange of gunfire.
Turkmenistan.ru indicated that at least two attackers were killed at the scene of the attack. The website went on to say: "several attackers were taken into custody, the remaining few [who escaped] have now gone into hiding."
Itar-Tass news agency reported that Niyazov accused former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, former Deputy Agricultural Minister Saparmurat Yklimov, former Central Bank head Khudaiberdy Orazov, and the former Turkmen ambassador to Turkey, Nurmuhammed Khanamov, of being the organizers behind the attack. All are political opposition leaders currently living in exile.
An anonymous source familiar with political developments in Turkmenistan suggested that disgruntled security authorities and other officials within the government might have had a hand in the assassination attempt. The source added, that some opposition leaders were poised in neighboring states to make a quick return to Turkmenistan in the event the attack had been successful.
Opposition to Niyazov's rule has grown over the past year, as several former high-profile political figures, including Shikhmuradov, have defected to the opposition. Opposition leaders had been increasingly vocal in recent months about joint efforts to usurp Niyazov from power.
There is no active political opposition within Turkmenistan. However, Niyazov's recent actions have indicated that he is concerned about his grip on power, and about the loyalty of security forces and other government institutions. Throughout this past summer, Niyazov purged law-enforcement agencies of officials who apparently had been deemed unreliable.
Since Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991, Niyazov has built a personal cult--going so far as in 2002 as to rename the days of the week and the months of the year in his honor. During the same period, Niyazov relied on police repression to buttress his authority.
The failed assassination attempt will most likely prompt Niyazov to continue purging officials from government institutions. "There will be a massive crackdown, [and] it will be a severe blow to the opposition," the source said.
News of the assassination attempt spread quickly throughout Turkmenistan, even though the government maintains strict control over media outlets.