Sat, Jan 17, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Turkmenistan head fires top officials, state oil firm chief

AP , ASHGABAT

The president of energy-rich Turkmenistan has fired almost one-third of his Cabinet and the head of the state oil company in a large-scale reshuffle reminiscent of his eccentric predecessor’s frequent purges.

In a highly charged government meeting televised late on Thursday, President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov charged officials with committing “unforgivable mistakes and miscalculations.”

The most prominent casualties included the ministers for energy, communications, sports and tourism. The heads of the state oil firm Turkmenneft and the state geological agency, which explores the country’s vast hydrocarbon resources, were also dismissed.

Berdymukhamedov said significant progress had been made in the central Asian nation’s oil and gas sector, but blasted what he called financial irregularities and the mismanagement of advanced technical equipment, which he said have caused overspending and accidents.

Turkmenistan’s natural gas riches have make it a target of courtship by both Russia and the West, but development of the sector has been hampered by poor management and lack of transparency.

Under autocratic former president Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December 2006, the dismissal and the subsequent arrest of high-level officials was routine. Thursday’s government purge was the largest since Berdymukhamedov came to power.

Large parts of the capital, Ashgabat, were closed to traffic and security was on high alert on Thursday as government met, ostensibly to review progress made over the previous year.

In a wide-ranging closing speech, Berdymukhamedov again criticized government officials for inefficiency and excessive bureaucracy. Looking forward to the coming year, he stressed the importance of improving democratic standards and the economy.

“We must make great efforts to keep pace with world progress and become full members of the international community,” he said. “Our main task should be to further strengthen the democratic and legal foundations of the state and to enhance the economic strength of our country.”

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